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Merauke Five arrive back in Australia
Evan Schwarten - June 24, 2009 - 5:44PM

Five Australians detained for nine months by Indonesian authorities are celebrating their first night back on home soil after finally being allowed to leave the troubled province of Papua.

First on the agenda were beers and meat pies, followed by a night watching the State of Origin rugby league match - if they could stay awake that late.

"I feel like a goldfish that has escaped a pool of piranhas," Pilot William Scott-Bloxam told AAP shortly after touching down on Horn Island, in the Torres Strait, on Wednesday.

Mr Scott-Bloxam, his wife Vera and friends Keith Mortimer, Hubert Hofer and Karen Burke, all middle-aged residents of the Torres Strait were detained by Indonesian authorities after flying to the Papuan town of Merauke without visas last September.

The so-called "Merauke Five" spent almost two months in rat-infested immigration detention before being released to a local house, only later to be moved to the local prison after being sentenced to between two and three years' jail.

Indonesia's Supreme Court this month overturned the decision but it took another fortnight of waiting for their official clearance to leave.

"It's hard to imagine that you end up in the highest court in the land for a misdemeanour case," Mr Mortimer said.

"We were all naive in thinking the system would look after us and it never did.

"At the end of it, it was the Australian government, the Australian people and the Australian media that got us out."

Mr Mortimer praised the group's Indonesian lawyers and support base but lamented the lack of translation services in the region which meant the five had little idea what was being said at their trial.

Mr Hofer said the group was on a sightseeing visit to the region and believed they would be able to get visas on their arrival.

"There were lots of factors involved, it was not just one mistake ... The faxes on the island don't work, messages don't get through, people have a different mentality of doing things," he said.

"We got information that visas would be available on arrival because Merauke is an international airport but nobody realised that West Papua was so sensitive that it was like flying into a military base."

Mr Mortimer said the group remained friends despite the high-stress ordeal.

"I don't think there's any animosity at all. We're all mates. Whether we stay mates is another thing, but it'll be nice to have a break from them all."

2009 AAP

Five Australians leave Papua for home
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Jayapura (ANTARA News) - Five Australians who were convicted by a Merauke court last January for illegally entering the country in a private airplane, were released and left Papua Province, by their own plane on Wednesday morning.

They were released following the Supreme Court (MA)`s decision to reject the Merauke public prosecutor`s office`s appeal on the Jayapura high court`s ruling overthrowing the five Australians` different prison sentences meted out by the Merauke district court last January 15.

Efraim Fanghoy, a lawyer of the five Australians, confirmed to ANTARA News here on Wednesday about his clients` release and return to Australia.

The Merauke district court last January 15 meted out different prison sentences to the Australians. The Jayapura high court in its verdict on March 5, 2009 had instead ordered the five Australians to leave Indonesian territory immediately in their aircraft.

However, the Merauke public prosecutor`s office could not accept the high court`s decision and filed an appeal on it with the Supreme Court in Jakarta.

Pending the MA`s ruling, the five Australians had been placed under city arrest.

The Merauke district court had previously sentenced Henry Scott Bloxom, the airplane`s pilot, to 3 years in jail and a fine of Rp50 million, while the plane`s four passengers - Vera Scott Bloxom, Karen Burke, Hubert Hofer and Keith Rowald Mortimer - got two years in prison plus a fine of Rp 25 million each.

The five arrived in Merauke`s airport on September 12, 2008 in a V-68 airplane from Horne Island in Australia without the required visa, and their entry by plane was also not covered by the needed flight approval and security clearance.

Meanwhile, Sudiro Husodo, Head of the Merauke public prosecutor`s office, also confirmed that the five Australians had returned to their country. However, he said his office still prepared steps to file another appeal on the Jayapura high court`s verdict on the five Australians.

"We are still formulating and studying documents for filing an appeal," Husodo said, adding that the legal process was still going on although the Australians had returned home. (*)

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