JAKARTA, Indonesia – An Indonesian court sentenced a Pakistani man to seven years in jail Tuesday for attempting to smuggle asylum seekers to Australia on a rickety boat that sank, killing about 90 people.
Javaid Mahmood, 55, was the second person found guilty by the East Jakarta District Court in connection with the overloaded fishing boat that capsized on its way to Christmas Island in June 2012. Another 110 people on the boat were rescued.
A panel of three judges concluded that Mahmood, also known as Billu, organized the voyage and conspired with an international syndicate that smuggled asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia.
The judges said each asylum seeker paid the people smugglers up to $5,150 to get to Australia.
Last year, the court sentenced an Afghan man, Dawood Amiri, 20, to six years in prison and ordered him to pay $79,000. His interrogation led police to arrest Billu almost a year after the deadly voyage.
Prosecutors, who had requested a 10-year sentence, said the defendant knew that the boat was overloaded but did nothing to stop it from sailing. He was among the survivors and had organized three previous trips to Australia.
The judges also ordered him to pay $66,200 or face an additional six months in prison.
The number of asylum seekers from Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar and elsewhere reaching Australia in Indonesian fishing boats has soared in recent years, and tougher steps taken by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to block them have become an irritant in relations with Indonesia.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has criticized an Australia policy of turning back boats with asylum seekers as a violation of Indonesian sovereignty.
Tuesday's verdict came days after Australia apologized for incidents in which its border patrol boats entered Indonesian waters without permission, which had prompted Indonesia to demand that Australia suspend such operations against boats carrying asylum seekers.
Indonesia has long been a transit point for people fleeing war-ravaged countries on their way to Australia.