AN ill-fated sightseeing adventure has landed five shocked middle-aged Australians in prison in Indonesia’s troubled Papua region.
Queensland pilot William Henry Scott-Bloxam, 62, today appeared shocked as he learnt he would spend the next three years in prison for flying a small plane into Indonesia without permission.
His four passengers, including his 54-year-old wife Vera; Hubert Hufer, 57; Karen Burke, 51; and Keith Ronald Mortimer, 60, were also told they would spend the next two years in a Papuan prison in an earlier, separate hearing today.
The passengers were fined 25 million rupiah ($3400), which could be exchanged for an extra two months imprisonment.
The group, from Cape York on the northern tip of Australia, made the one-hour flight from Horn Island on September 12.
They have described it as a sightseeing flight and mistakenly believed they could get visas on arrival in Papua.
“I can’t believe this, I will let the lawyers deal with this,” Vera Scott-Bloxam said after her verdict was handed down in Merauke District Court, in Papua.
She later returned to the court to hear the decision in her husband’s case, and was in tears as she and her husband embraced after the sentence was announced.
Merauke District Court chief judge Desbeneri Sinaga said the pilot should have known better, jailing Scott-Bloxam for three years, with a 50 million rupiah ($6800) fine, which could be swapped for an extra three months imprisonment.
“The defendant should have known that you must have a permit to enter another country’s air space because the defendant has been a pilot for 40 years,” Sinaga said.
“The defendant has also piloted planes taking haj pilgrims from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia to Indonesia.”
After the sentencings, the Scott-Bloxams declined to comment through their lawyer Efrem Fangohoy, who described the verdicts as irrational.
“They don’t want to speak,” he said.
“They are disappointed and I am even more disappointed.
“This verdict is irrational. Many things have not been considered by the judges and many other things have been wrongly considered.”
He also said the couple’s son was seriously ill and they had not been granted permission to visit him.
The three-year jail term was in line with prosecutor demands to the court, but less than the five-year maximum penalty for the charge.
Judge Sinaga said Scott-Bloxam had behaved politely during the trial, admitted his crime, and had shown remorse.
During the trial, Scott-Bloxam wrote to the court in his defence, apologising for the incident.
“There was no intention whatsoever to violate Indonesian laws when we left from Horn Island on September 12 last year,” he wrote.
He mistakenly believed authorities had been informed of the planned three-day visit.
“I want the authorities to know that my intention was good but there has been a misunderstanding and lack of information which has caused this incident,” Scott-Bloxam wrote.
“I hope the court will accept this apology and have mercy and let me return home to Horn Island with my wife and friends.”
There are strict travel restrictions placed on visiting Papua, which has been troubled by a low-level separatist insurgency since the 1960s.
Journalists are barred from entering Papua without special permission, and human rights groups have accused the Indonesian military of widespread human rights abuses there.
The group’s lawyer immediately flagged an appeal against both decisions.
“We clearly reject this decision and we will go for an appeal,” he said.
Australian Embassy staff were present in court during the verdicts.
Indonesian prosecutor Rifky Firmansyah said the verdicts were in line with their sentence demand.
“We’ve heard that the lawyer will appeal, but for us we have to consider this verdict first,” he said.
“We are only doing our job as it has been trusted to us by law.
“All that we asked for has been fulfilled.”