Detained Australians to Be Released, Lawyer Says

JAKARTA ~ Five Australians held for nine months for illegally entering sensitive Papua province will return home as early as next week after the charges were dismissed, a lawyer said on Thursday.

Defence lawyer Efrem Fangoihoy said the Supreme Court had rejected a prosecution appeal against their acquittal in March, which followed their initial convictions and sentencing for up to three years’ jail in January.

“The supreme court refused the final appeal by prosecutors in Merauke yesterday. So we’ll follow the high court’s decision in March in which it accepted our appeal,” he said.

“They have contacted me from Merauke and are grateful about this. They are in good health.”

He said the so-called “Merauke Five” would be able to return to Australia as soon as the court’s ruling is officially published, probably next week.

The Australians – pilot William Scott-Bloxam and his wife, Vera, plus Hubert Hufer, Karen Burke and Keith Ronald Mortimer – had flown to Papua from Horn island off northeastern Australia on a sightseeing trip in September.

They had not obtained visas or permission to fly through Indonesian airspace but received verbal clearance to land their small plane from the control tower at Merauke district airport.

They were briefly held in Merauke prison after their initial convictions but have spent most of the past nine months in hotels.

A low-level separatist insurgency simmers in Papua and the province remains one of the most sensitive areas in the vast Indonesian archipelago.

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

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