Former Inmates, Activists Decry Lawyer’s Claims
An Australia-based lawyer for Indonesian boat crews jailed for people-smuggling offenses has denied allegations by a former diplomat that they were exploiting the country’s mandatory sentencing policy to get rich while in jail.
Lisa Hiariej told the Jakarta Globe on Sunday that the claim by Anthony Sheldon, submitted last month to the Australian government’s expert panel on asylum seekers, was unacceptable.
“To claim that the money earned by Indonesians held in Australian prisons is a big draw for these people is false,” she said.
She added that even though the prisoners did make money for various jobs carried out in prison, the money was quickly spent on phone cards and other items.
Lisa also said that after speaking with those who eventually returned to Indonesia, she was convinced that they were not going back much better off than when they were arrested.
“They typically go home with less than A$100 [$106] and many don’t even have any money left over after buying items that they need while in prison,” she said.
Lisa was responding to a report submitted to the Australian government by Sheldon, a lawyer and former diplomat, in which he said that jailed people smugglers were earning up to A$20 a day in prison.
In his five-page submission to the panel on asylum seekers, Sheldon said “It is clear that the mandatory sentencing provisions for people smuggling are actually providing incentive for Indonesian crew members to come to Australia.”
He said the high prison pay there made them “wealthy beyond comparison upon their return to their villages after their sentence is served.”
“They also receive free dental and medical services,” he added as quoted in The Australian. “Combined with the relative safety of their work in prison compared to the dangerous work at sea, Australian imprisonment is very desirable.”
The allegation, however, has been labeled “nonsense” by the office of Australian Attorney General Nicola Roxon, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
In an interview with the Globe last month, former juvenile detainees Didi and Putra said they earned around A$20 a week stitching bed linen and towels at the Silverwater Correctional Center in New South Wales.
“The facilities [in prison] were quite good, but it was still a prison and I felt like a chicken in a cage,” Didi said.
Putra also said he regretted the whole experience. The names of both boys, who are still younger than 18, have been changed to protect their identities.
Jono, a former crew member in his 40s who served one and a half years in an Australian prison, echoed the notion that freedom was definitely preferable to detention, no matter how comfortable life behind bars was.
“Even though the facilities there were good, I was always thinking about my family,” Jono told the Globe last month. “I don’t ever want to go there again.”
He also said that the money he earned in prison was all spent on phone cards to call his wife back home as well as necessities such as soap.
Rights activists in Indonesia have also taken issue with Sheldon’s allegation that prison pay was a big draw for impoverished Indonesians.
Ali Akbar, from the Human Rights Working Group, said he had spoken with many minors and adults who had been jailed there for people-smuggling offenses and none of them had ever said they wanted to go to an Australian prison.
“They would rather live in hardship in Indonesia because freedom can’t be bought with any amount of money,” he said.
He said that what the Australian authorities needed to understand was that most of the crew members on board asylum-seeker vessels had been duped by people-smuggling syndicates into taking up the risky job for the promise of a quick and hefty payoff.