Australians Freed after Illegal Papua Flight

MERAUKE ~ Five Australians jailed for illegally entering Papua by plane have been released after winning their appeal, their lawyer said.

They will fly the same plane home after the high court ruled the control tower in Papua’s Merauke district gave them verbal permission to land on September 12, the lawyer said.

A lower court in January jailed them for up to three years.

They had flown from Horn island off northeastern Australia on what they described as a sightseeing trip.

“They have all been freed since the high court accepted their appeal on March 5,” lawyer Efrem Fangoihoy said on Tuesday.

The court had not made its ruling public until Tuesday, when the Australians’ legal team received the documentation.

“The judges accepted our arguments that the pilot decided to land as the tower official gave verbal permission despite the pilot’s explanation that they hadn’t obtained landing permit documents,” he said.

“The conversation between the pilot and the tower official in Merauke’s airport had been recorded and we gave a copy to the court.”

He said that even if they had not obtained clearance to land, the most the Indonesian authorities could do was deport them for not having visas.

The Australians – pilot William Scott-Bloxam and his wife, Vera, plus Hubert Hufer, Karen Burke and Keith Ronald Mortimer – were expected to leave Papua as soon as they received formal notice of the court’s decision.

A low-level separatist insurgency simmers in Papua and the region remains one of the most sensitive areas in the country.

Journalists are banned from visiting Papua without special permission and the military is accused of human rights violations there.

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