Whatever the outcome of upcoming legal proceedings in Brisbane, Australia still has unfinished business with the convicted organiser of the tragic SIEVX voyage, Abu Quassey.
In December 2003, Abu Quassey (under his given name 'Mootaz Attia Mohamed Hasan) was convicted in Cairo of 'homicide through negligence' and 'aiding and abetting the entry of aliens without effective travel documents' and sentenced to a total of seven years jail - five years on the first charge and two years on the second. His sentence for the minor charge was later reduced on appeal to just three months. He is due for release in early 2009. As some commentators have observed, Quassey will serve less than one week for each of the 353 lives lost on SIEVX.
I have read that the maximum sentence that can be imposed under Egyptian law for manslaughter is fifteen years. It is not clear whether or not Quassey was actually charged with manslaughter. What is the relationship between manslaughter and 'homicide through negligence' under the Egyptian system? Are they the same thing or separate charges? If they are separate, what is the maximum sentence for 'homicide through negligence' under Egyptian law? If it is less than the maximum sentence for manslaughter it would be interesting to know on what basis the Egyptians chose to prosecute Quassey for this crime rather than manslaughter? If both crimes carry equal penalty under Egyptian law then how could the forced loading of more than 400 people onto a dilapidated, leaky and obviously extremely unsafe vessel that resulted in the loss of 353 lives not merit the maximum sentence?
With regard to the second charge of aiding illegal migration (ie people smuggling) - did this also include the three other voyages that Quassey allegedly organised - Donnybrook, Gelantipy and Yambuk?
If not, then will Justice Minister Ellison make good on his promise to 'not relent in the pursuit of Abu Quassey' and bring him to Australia on the completion of his sentence to face charges for organising these three voyages?
The AFP issued warrants for Quassey in respect of these voyages back in 2002. Assuming that Egypt chose only to prosecute Quassey for his part in organising the fatal SIEVX voyage and not the other three voyages, then it would appear that there is no legal impediment (ie double jeopardy) to Australia pursuing Quassey on his release from prison in Egypt in less than four years time.
The Australian government prides itself on having some of the toughest laws in the world for dealing with people smugglers. We lock up for years, poor and desperate Indonesian fishermen who were seduced by people smugglers with the lure of easy cash to captain vessels that arrived safely at Ashmore reef and Christmas Island and yet this man who is known to have sent 353 people to their deaths on a similar voyage has so far never faced an Australian court!
We have the means to put Quassey behind bars for twenty years. To not do so, makes a mockery of these laws.
In December 2002 Senator Jacinta Collins moved a motion in the Senate on behalf of the Opposition and minor parties that tasked the government to 'undertake all actions necessary' to ensure that Quassey be brought to justice. Two and a half years later we ask does five years and three months in prison constitute justice for the loss of 353 innocent lives?
Suspicion and innuendo will continue to swirl and gather around the issue of SIEVX until Quassey is brought to court in Australia and a full powers judicial inquiry is held into all aspects of the covert people smuggling disruption program that operated in Indonesia at the time of the sinking.
If you feel strongly about this issue please write to the Minister:
The Hon. Christopher Ellison
Minister for Justice and Customs
Tel: (02) 6277 7260
Fax: (02) 6273 7098
89 Aberdeen Street
Northbridge WA 6003
PO Box 143
Northbridge WA 6865
Tel: (08) 9328 3688
Fax: (08) 9328 3900