Sect members thrown off doomed boat

By Ainsley Pavey
27 July 2004

ASYLUM-seekers boarding a doomed illegal boat voyage to Christmas Island believed they were being jinxed by members of a religious sect and kicked them off the vessel, a court was told today.

The committal proceedings against one of the accused people smugglers heard the asylum-seekers, who were Muslims, also tore out pages of their holy book - The Koran - and threw them into the sea in the hope the gesture would calm the waters.

A member of the Sabians, regarded as unlucky by the Muslims, told the hearing in Brisbane he was ordered off the boat after suggesting when he boarded the vessel in Indonesia that it was unsafe and would never make it to Australia.

Bashar Lafta Zabari, 30, told Brisbane's Magistrates Court the Muslims labelled Sabians "dirty" for the boat.

Mr Zabari said they claimed the boat would never make it with them on board.

"They said 'don't jinx us'," Mr Zabari said through an interpreter.

"After we unboarded, we heard them saying 'I wish you go and never come back'.

"I saw people do some strange things - people cut pages from the Koran so the water would go down."

The SIEV-X set sail and later sank off Christmas Island, killing 353 asylum-seekers and leaving 45 survivors who were stranded at sea for 22 hours before being rescued by Indonesian fishing boats.

Commonwealth prosecutors have accused Khaleed Shnayf Daoed, 37, of helping to organise the fatal trip with convicted people smuggler Abu Quassey, who is in an Egyptian jail, and a third man known as "Mathem".

Mr Zabari waved across the court room to Daoed, whom he described in his evidence as a friend and fellow Sabian.

The Baghdad-born asylum seeker said Daoed, who faces a 20-year jail term if convicted of the 12 charges of people smuggling, took him to hospital, interpreted for him, and ate with him when he was in Jakarta awaiting the trip.

He said he had no idea the former Iraqi goldsmith was a people smuggler working with Quassey, who he paid $US700 ($A989) to get to Australia.

Mr Zabari, now a refugee in New Zealand, had failed in three previous attempts to enter Australia illegally after being rejected by the United States after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The hearing before Magistrate Barbara Tynan is continuing.



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