28 December 2003

The Egyptian people smuggler responsible for the SIEV-X disaster has been sentenced to seven years jail. Abu Quassey has been found guilty of organising the voyage, which saw more than 350 people drown on their way from Indonesia to Australia.

Quassey received five years for manslaughter and an additional two years for aiding illegal immigration. Here, the Federal Government has welcomed the sentence.

CHRIS ELLISON, JUSTICE MINISTER: We have never relented in our pursuit of Mr Abu Quassey and his co-accused, of course, is now before an Australian court - I can't comment on that. Mr Abu Quassey, we understand, has lodged an appeal in Egypt, and that will, of course, follow the normal course of the law in that country. But we welcome the conviction of him and the sentence.

Earlier this year, Quassey was deported from Indonesia to Egypt after being sentenced to six months jail on an unrelated charge of overstaying his visa. The court in Cairo was told he had charged 400 asylum seekers, mainly Iraqis and Afghans, $1,361 each for their ill-fated passage to Australia. Survivors told of having second thoughts when they went to board the 20m wooden vessel in Indonesia. Some reported that Indonesian police had forced them to board the unseaworthy boat at gunpoint. The SIEV-X - an acronym for "suspected illegal entry vessel of unknown name" - departed Indonesia on October 18, 2001. The next day, it sank. 353 people, mainly women and children, perished. 45 survived, rescued by a fishing boat. The tragedy, in the heat of the last federal election campaign, sparked strenuous denials from the Prime Minister and the navy that it could have been averted. Refugee groups want Quassey brought to Australia to face charges here and to shed light on the circumstances of the sinking.

FLEUR TAYLOR, REFUGEE ACTION COLLECTIVE: What's absolutely clear is that the Government has no interest in bringing him here and I doubt that they could stand the revelations that he might make in the witness stand were he to be brought to Australia.

The Opposition says Quassey has got off lightly.

ROBERT McCLELLAND, SHADOW HOMELAND SECURITY MINISTER: A 7-year sentence we would put very much on the lighter side of what an appropriate penalty should be. In Australia we can have up to 20 years.

Quassey's defence says it will appeal the verdict.


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