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Zahra (6), Fatima (7) and Eman (9) - the daughters of Sondos Ismail and Ahmed Alzalimi -  three of the 146 children who lost their lives when the vessel that has become known as SIEVX foundered in international waters en route to Christmas Island on 19 October 2001.
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The Quasi-SIEVX Trial?

by Marg Hutton
8 September 2003

What is going on in Cairo with regard to the trial of self-confessed people smuggler, Abu Quassey - the alleged head of the syndicate that organised the fatal SIEVX voyage?

Today's report in the Australian provides more questions than answers.

Is this trial a genunine attempt to bring the infamous smuggler to account over his part in the deaths by drowning of 353 asylum seekers or is it more smoke and mirrors?

From the report in the Australian it sounds as if Australia has been kept (or has kept itself) well out of the loop with Cairo in this matter. A spokesperson for Justice and Customs Minister Chris Ellison is quoted as saying 'the Egyptian ambassador in Canberra would be told Australian Federal Police could provide a brief of evidence and witness statements gathered from the 45 survivors'.

Given that the trial has already commenced (according to yesterday's report on the ABC website) why hasn't our government already provided Egypt with this information?

It sounds as if Australia has not progressed its involvement in the case any further since last May when Ellison and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) appeared at Senate Estimates. Back then we were told by Ms Robyn Frost, Director of the International Crime Branch in the Attorney General's Department that the Australian embassy in Cairo had been 'in quite close contact with the Egyptian authorities' regarding the possible extradition and prosecution of Quassey, but at that point had 'not received any information' (see Hansard extract).

Close contact indeed! And what has changed since then? According to Ellison's spokesperson quoted in today's Australian, nothing at all. When asked about Australia's offer to help prosecute Quassey, he said: 'So far, we have not had a response to this offer, so this week we will be renewing the offer of assistance and will probably be speaking to the ambassador' [emphasis added].

And then there's the issue of witness statements. According to the same newspaper article 'the Egyptian ambassador in Canberra would be told Australian Federal Police could provide a brief of evidence and witness statements gathered from the 45 survivors.'

This implies that the AFP is offering Egypt a full complement of witness statements from survivors, but this seems not to be the case.

For one thing, one of the 45 survivors who was rescued after the sinking was only a babe in arms - young Kauthar Sadiq. So it seems highly unlikely that the AFP has been interviewing this young toddler for its brief of evidence.

But more importantly, what about the twenty-three people who disembarked from SIEVX prior to the sinking? Surely these people would have a lot to say about Abu Quassey and how they came to be aboard the vessel. Have the AFP interviewed these people? If so, why aren't they supplying their witness statements to Egypt along with those taken from the other survivors?

Is this simply a lack of attention to detail or is it further evidence of the AFP and Justice Minister dragging their heels over all things connected with SIEVX? ( 7445) | ©Copyright Marg Hutton ~ / 2002-2014