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The queen confronts X Hadi

By Duncan Graham - posted Thursday, 15 March 2012

For a clear example of the cultural gulf between Indonesia and Australia consider these proceedings in Perth's District Court.

In late February three Indonesian fishermen were each jailed for five years. Their crime - helping Afghan asylum seekers get to Australia.

They weren't the Mr Bigs who do secret business in Indonesian shopping malls, seemingly immune, selling high-price illegal passages to desperate people.


The crew are the gullible victims. While they're behind bars the Afghans they helped now walk Perth's streets as free men. In return they give evidence in court against the Indonesians.

Day One in courtroom 7.1. X Riyan and X Hadi shuffle into the dock, confused and chilled, for the air conditioning is like the justice system - icily efficient. Riyan, 28, wears a blue top, Hadi, age unknown, an oversize fleecy white and black hoodie, hiding his hands in the long sleeves. Through their interpreters they plead 'not guilty'.

Judge Richard Keen politely asks them to sit and the trial gets underway. Officially it's called The Queen v X Riyan and X Hadi; Australia's legal system can't cope with one-name people.

Facing them across the wide and almost empty court (an Indonesian diplomat occasionally attends) sits the randomly selected jury of 12 citizens. Being judged by your peers is an ancient principle of imported British justice.

But peers they are not; the comprehension gap between the eight men and four women of Western Australia's booming capital and the poor knockabout fishers of the Archipelago is as wide as the Arafura Sea.

According to Hadi his journey started in May 2010 when he crewed a boat carrying coconuts to Flores. The job done, he thought they were heading back to Batam.


Instead the boat went to Probolinggo on East Java's north coast. Offshore and at night it collected 54 Afghan men and headed west, then south. On 3 June they were stopped by the Australian naval patrol boat HMAS Maryborough.

The issue of asylum seekers being trafficked by Indonesians is a weeping sore festering relations between the two countries. There's little public sympathy on either side. Last year 168 Indonesian crew illegally brought 4,565 people on 69 boats– the previous year the numbers were almost double.

Skipper Mahmud Rizalhad already pleaded guilty. So for nine days two prosecutors, two defence lawyers, plus their interpreters, all paid by the Australian taxpayer, tread a long and tedious road of detailed evidence and ponderous procedure.

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This article was first published in The Jakarta Post on March 10, 2012.

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

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All articles by Duncan Graham

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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