An Indonesian court has sentenced an Egyptian man to six months in jail on immigration violations after dropping people smuggling charges. He was alleged to have organized an illegal sea voyage to Australia but the ill-fated boat sank killing at least 350 people.
Justice Rohendi from the South Jakarta District Court announced the decision against the defendant Mootaz Attiah Mohamad Hassan, who sometimes goes by the alias Abu Quassey.
The judge says the court has been convinced that the defendant, a foreigner, entered Indonesia illegally after being deported. He is therefore sentenced to six months in prison.
Hassan, a 29-year-old Egyptian national, was arrested by Indonesian authorities in November under suspicion of people-smuggling. But prosecutors decided to try him on the lesser charge of entering Indonesia illegally having evidence that he had twice been deported since 1997.
Although Hassan has been in detention for more than 10 months, the court ruled that his time in detention by immigration authorities would not be recognized. Instead, judges ruled Hassan's prison term started slightly more than five weeks ago, when court proceedings against him began.
Hassan has admitted to journalists that he tried to smuggle hundreds of people, mainly Afghans and Iraqis, to Australia last October. The ship was vastly overloaded and sank in Indonesian waters shortly after it departed. At least 350 people are believed to have died.
The tragedy further strained the sometimes tense relations between Indonesia and its neighbor to the south, Australia. Australia wants Indonesia to do more to crackdown on people-smuggling networks.
The Indonesian government says the country's geography makes that task difficult. Indonesia is made up of more than 13,000 islands making its borders difficult to patrol. What is more, authorities say, Indonesian security forces are already stretched thin handling other problems in the provinces, such as religious and separatist unrest.
It is for those same reasons, analysts say, that Indonesia is an appealing transit point for illegal migrants trying to enter Australia.
Hassan declined to speak in court when given an opportunity by the judge. He has one week to decide if he wants to appeal his verdict.