SIEV X people smuggling trial now in its third week


The trial continues in Brisbane of Mr
Khaleed Daoed, alleged assistant to convicted people smuggler Abu
Quassey (now serving a five year sentence in Egypt for accidental
homicide and people smuggling). Daoed has been charged with two counts
of aiding a people smuggling operation in violation of the Migration
Act. The charges relate to two voyages organised by Quassey from
Sumatra in 2001 — Yambuk which reached Christmas Island, and the boat
now known as SIEV X which sank en route, drowning 353 people.

primary information source for the following commentary for which I
take full editorial responsibility
is Sue Hoffman, attending the
trial as a volunteer observer. Her trip was funded by the Western
Australian Action Alliance and other refugee supporters around
Australia. Australian media coverage of the trial was intense in the
first week (17–20 May) but fell away to very little in the second week
27 May).

I am bound by court reporting rules to not express opinions on the
evidence before the court that might be construed as an attempt to
influence the outcome of the case. I can express no views as to Mr
Khaleed Daoed’s innocence or guilt under the charges.

The Crown
announced initially that it would present fourteen witnesses under the
SIEV X charge: five survivors now living in Finland, four in New
Zealand, and four in Australia, and an Australian Federal Police (AFP)
officer who recorded earlier statements by Daoed.

By the end of week two, the five witnesses from Finland, two of the NZ and two of
the Australian-based witnesses had completed testimony and
cross-examination. Witnesses who have so far testified have come from
the forty-five survivors of the sinking, and from members of the group
of twenty-three Iraqi Sabaean Mandaeans who left the boat in the
Karakatu Islands, Sunda Strait, during its journey.

The Court is
taking a strict approach to admissible evidence. The judge has reminded
the jury that while this case involves a tragedy, they must focus on
the evidence relating to the alleged offence. He said that as they
consider the evidence, they must focus on actual facts, occurrences,
and conversations. For example, was there a meeting? Was money handed
over? The Court’s focus is on the organisation of the trip, not on how
or why the 353 deaths occurred. Questions pertaining to the size,
condition, or overcrowding of the boat, number of passengers, fares,
secrecy of operation etc, are relevant only insofar as they bear on the
question of whether this was a people smuggling operation, and on the
states of mind of the principal, Abu Quassey and of the accused, Khaleed

Adhering to the Court’s requirements has proved stressful
for some witnesses, who have shown confusion and distress at the
Court’s apparent lack of interest in hearing how their loved ones died.
Two witnesses broke down in court.

At the outset the Crown
summarised its case: that Daoed took part in promotional meetings with
prospective passengers, in which he described the boat; that he
negotiated terms of travel, sometimes with Abu Quassey, and sometimes
with two other alleged Quassey associates, Maysam and his brother
Maysar; that Daoed received payments and kept records of payments; that
Daoed assisted in the transfer of passengers between places within
Indonesia up to and including the embarkation point.

The defence
is challenging that portrayal of Daoed’s role. Daoed has claimed (in a
taped statement he gave to the AFP prior to the case, and which was
played to the court last Friday and Monday) that he was not working
with Quassey, but was providing voluntary humanitarian assistance to
the passengers, drawing on his local knowledge and his knowledge of the
Indonesian language. The Defence cross-examination of crown witnesses
has tried to demonstrate cases of inconsistency, faulty memory, or
testimony based on hearsay from other survivors.

The Defence has yet to present its case.

the Minister for Justice Senator Ellison, in reply to a question on
notice from Senator Bob Brown, advised the Senate that ‘there is no
current investigation or inquiry’ being conducted into the sinking of
the boat known as SIEV X, although ‘one Australian Federal Police
member remains involved in preparation for further court proceedings
concerning this matter’. (Senate Hansard, 10 May 2005 Question on
Notice No 432,)

Even after this trial delivers its verdict, the
truth about the sinking of SIEV X may still prove elusive. In Bishop
Tom Frame’s words: ‘I am afraid that in the case of SIEV X, we might be
confronted with the unknown and burdened with the unknowable.’

trial is turning out to be a frustrating experience for the SIEV X
victims. They must be haunted by an unanswered question: Why isn’t Abu
Quassey here on trial as well?

I see this trial as a tragic lost
opportunity. Much taxpayer money was spent in bringing a large and
representative group of SIEV X survivor witnesses to Australia from
Finland and New Zealand, and their lives have been interrupted
witnesses who have important knowledge as to the sinking of SIEV X, and
who as secure permanent refugees in those two countries have no reason
to withhold any evidence from an Australian court.

After this
trial ends whatever the outcome in respect of Mr Daoed it will be
claimed by the Australian Government’s supporters that justice has been
done and that this must now finally put an end to further public
discussion of the SIEV X matter.

But this will be an arguable
claim. Crucial questions about how SIEV X sank will remain unanswered,
until such time as there is a full powers independent judicial inquiry
into the sinking of SIEV X and the Australian Government’s people
smuggling disruption program in Indonesia. Something the Senate has
three times demanded over the past three years.

As I understand
it, Labor, Democrats and Greens parties remain committed to the pursuit
of this enquiry neither they nor I accept Frame’s view that the truth
about the sinking of SIEV X may be unknowable. One day, under a
different kind of Australian government, a SIEV X judicial enquiry will
be held.


Bishop Tom Frame, "SIEV X and Public Ethics", Public Administration Today , September-November 2004, pages 87-90.

Sue Hoffman, private notes provided to Tony Kevin

Marg Hutton, "The Daoed Trial: Week One", on, 22 May 2005. Please note: this site is temporarily unavailable as it shares server space with a watergate site with the identity of Deep Throat finally being revealed that site is experiencing so much traffic it is bringing down the server.

Tony Kevin, A Certain Maritime Incident: the sinking of SIEV X, Scribe Books, Melbourne 2004.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.