February 13, 2002, Wednesday
Catharine Munro

JAKARTA, Feb 13 AAP - The people smuggler accused of organising the boat on which 350 people drowned off Indonesia last October today declared his work was "for humanity".

Abu Quassey, 29, was today forced by police to appear before the media for the first time after being arrested last November.

Bearded and wearing shorts and slippers, Quassey attempted to hide his face from the cameras when he was escorted into the media conference at police headquarters by plainclothes detectives. Quassey, an Egyptian national who has gone by a number of pseudonyms, denied responsibility for the drowning of the 350 people whose boat broke up off the coast of Sumatra while attempting to reach Australia.

Only 44 people, mostly Iraqis, survived.

Asked if he knew he had broken the law in organising the transport of asylum seekers to Australia by boat, Quassey said: "I know, but it's for humanity".

Asked if he was guilty, Quassey, who appeared stunned by the camera lights, paused before saying "I don't know".

But later he said he felt "a little bit" guilty "because they paid me some money".

Police today said Quassey would be charged for forgery, facilitating illegal immigration, misuse of his visa and entering Indonesia illegally.

But it was unclear when and if charges would be laid, with police and immigration authorities both saying it was up to the other to lay the charges.

Police spokesman Prasetyo told the press conference that Quassey could face a maximum of five to six years' jail if found guilty. Unlike Australia, people smuggling is not a specific crime in Indonesia.

A plaintive Quassey refused to reveal who he worked for or whether he had received help from Indonesian immigration and police officials.

Some survivors of the boat sinking alleged that corrupt Indonesian police had forced them to board the boat.

Speaking throughout the press conference in Indonesian, Quassey said he had told police he was been paid to organise bus transport for people smugglers.

Most asylum seekers enter Indonesia illegally from Malaysia, which has a visa-free policy for people from most Islamic states.

"I did not arrange the smuggling, they came to look for me in Indonesia, I only helped them," Quassey said.

"They came one at a time and, after a lot of people had gathered, we sent them."

Asked why he operated in Indonesia, he said: "Maybe because it's close to Australia."

He said he had told police he had worked as a translator and paper exporter.

He denied knowing any of the victims of the boat which sank.

Last November, Quassey was identified at police headquarters by three survivors from the illfated vessel.


Back to