Witness feared threats
August 8, 2003

A witness in the case of the first alleged people smuggler to be extradited to Australia may have been threatened over his evidence, a Darwin court was told yesterday.

Federal prosecutor Patricia Kelly, QC, yesterday said the man, who cannot be identified, was reluctant to give evidence in committal proceedings in the Darwin Magistrates Court because he had allegedly been threatened by the brother of the accused in the past few days.

The nature of the threat, which is being investigated, was not revealed.

Ali Hassan Abdolamir al-Jenabi is facing 22 charges that he allegedly helped smuggle 359 people to Australia on four boats in 2000 and 2001.

The court has heard al-Jenabi helped organise the passage of the asylum seekers, many of whom fled Iraq and Iran to Malaysia, and then Indonesia before washing up on the remote Ashmore Reef in the vessels.

Ms Kelly also said she was concerned about a threatening gesture that al-Jenabi may have made towards one of the asylum seekers giving evidence yesterday.

A police officer sitting in the court had alleged al-Jenabi made a gesture towards the witness box that could be interpreted as threatening, when the witness was asked to identify the accused, she said.

But defence lawyer Suzan Cox rejected the accusation.

``My client totally denies that he did that at all,'' Ms Cox said.

``It may be that the police officer is mistaken.''

The names of dozens of witnesses giving evidence in the hearing have already been suppressed, because some feared reprisals, the court has previously heard.

The prosecution had asked that a special screen be erected in court.

Several asylum seekers today told their stories about how they fled their homelands for Australia, paying to have their visas and transport organised.

``I have sold all my belongings, my apartment (in Iraq),'' one man told the court, when asked how he came up with the estimated $US6000 ($A9283) paid for the passage of his family.

Another man relived the last time he saw al-Jenabi, who he said was organising asylum seekers onto boats from a beach in Kupang, Indonesia.

``He said to us don't make too much noise, stay down ... otherwise the police patrol might catch you.''

The hearing continues today.

Northern Territory News

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