Aceh court sentences 3 Rohingya for smuggling refugees into Indonesia

The men, who argued they were victims seeking refuge, face six to eight years in prison.
Nurdin Hasan
Jantho, Indonesia
Aceh court sentences 3 Rohingya for smuggling refugees into Indonesia Indonesian police handcuff three Rohingya following their sentencing at the Jantho District Court on charges related to smuggling over 100 fellow refugees into Aceh province last year, June 5, 2024.
Nurdin Hasan/BenarNews

A court in Indonesia’s Aceh province sentenced three Rohingya to years in prison Wednesday for smuggling more than 100 Rohingya refugees in December, although one of the defendants argued that he and the others were victims seeking shelter.

Muhammed Amin, 35, received an eight-year sentence, while Anisul Hoque, 27, and Habibul Basyar, 53, were each sentenced to six years at the end of their trial, which began in March. Elsewhere in Aceh, a separate trial began on Tuesday for four Indonesians facing similar smuggling charges over an incident in March that left 11 Rohingya dead.

The court in Jantho found Amin, Hoque and Basyar guilty of violating Indonesia’s immigration law by transporting 134 Rohingya to Aceh from Bangladesh in December 2023. It fined each man 500 million rupiah (U.S. $30,645) or an additional three months in prison if they failed to pay.

“We are refugees who didn’t know where we were going,” Basyar said through an interpreter, his voice choking with tears. “Maybe we made a mistake by bringing the boat, but our goal was to find a better life.”

Basyar pleaded for leniency, saying he wanted to reunite with his family. 

“I miss them very much,” he told reporters. 

The other two defendants had arrived in Indonesia without their families. While Amin’s sentence was harsher than the seven years sought by prosecutors, the sentences for Basyar and Hoque matched the prosecutors’ demands. 

Rohingya, members of a stateless Muslim minority group, have faced persecution and violence in their native Myanmar, leading thousands to flee to neighboring countries including Bangladesh. Over 740,000 have fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine state since an August 2017 government crackdown against Rohingya, driving the population of the refugee camps in and around southeastern Cox’s Bazar district to about 1 million.

Conditions in camps in and around Cox’s Bazar can be dire, prompting many to embark on perilous sea journeys in search of better opportunities.

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Ethnic Rohingya disembark from their boat upon landing in Ulee Madon, North Aceh, Indonesia, Nov. 16, 2023. [Rahmat Mirza/AP]

Prosecutors said the three Rohingya men were apprehended shortly after their fishing boat landed on the coast of Lamreh village in Aceh Besar on Dec. 10. They had separated from a larger group of over 130 refugees who had just arrived.

The prosecution charged the men with transporting the Rohingya from Cox’s Bazar to Indonesia – naming Amin as the boat’s captain, Hoque as his deputy, and Basyar as technician during their journey across the Andaman Sea.

“Each refugee paid 100,000 Bangladeshi taka ($851), and part of that money was used to purchase the fishing boat for 2 million taka ($17,000), as well as food, drinks and other supplies for the trip to Indonesia,” according to the indictment.

Following the verdict and sentencing, defense attorney Muzakir A.R. said the men would appeal.

“We firmly believe our clients are not perpetrators, but victims of human trafficking,” Muzakir said. “That’s why in our plea, we asked for their acquittal.”

Separate trial

Meanwhile, another trial began on Tuesday in Meulaboh, the main town of West Aceh regency, for four Indonesian men accused of a deadly smuggling incident in March. 

Herman Saputra, Muchtar, Harfadi M. Iqbal and Erpan each face maximum sentences of 15 years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors allege the four men, along with others still at large, picked up the Rohingya at sea using a fishing boat owned by one of the defendants, Herman, who recruited the other defendants.

The Rohingya arrived from Bangladesh in a wooden boat that had capsized at sea near Meulaboh on March 20. On that day, rescue officials could bring ashore only six passengers, but the next day searchers rescued 69 additional Rohingya who had been clinging to the wooden boat.

Later, the bodies of 11 Rohingya were found at sea not far from where the boat overturned while the remaining passengers were never found. Some of the 75 who were rescued had told officials at the time that the wooden boat had been carrying around 150 Rohingya.

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Rohingya Muhammed Amin (left), Anisul Hoque and Habibul Basyar speak to reporters before their trial at the Jantho District Court, Aceh province, Indonesia, June 5, 2024. [Nurdin Hasan/BenarNews]

This incident occurred amid the increasing arrival of Rohingya boats in Indonesia.

In 2023 alone, over 2,300 Rohingya had arrived in Indonesia, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration.

While not a signatory to the U.N. Refugee Convention, Indonesia traditionally has been a supporter of Rohingya and has provided temporary shelter. 

Many Rohingya leave Bangladesh seeking a better life in Muslim-majority countries in Southeast Asia, but become disillusioned with the limited opportunities in Indonesia where refugees are barred from working or attending formal schools.

Observers note that most who arrive in Indonesia plan to reach Malaysia, which has a larger Rohingya community and more informal employment options.


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Esther Brown
Jun 05, 2024 09:55 PM

I would be surprised, if the Indonesian legal system were to let the Rohingya boost the presence of the Rohingya language at the Indonesian edition of Wiktionary and other editions of Wiktionary.