Indonesia’s proposed people-smuggling laws may be tougher than expected

PEOPLE-smugglers in Indonesia could face up to 15 years’ jail under draft laws set to be debated by parliament as early as next month.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono promised the Australian parliament in March that his government would finally move to outlaw people-smuggling this year.

Dr Yudhoyono said then that people-smugglers would face up to five years in prison, but the legislation – currently being considered by an Indonesian parliamentary committee – actually provides for sentences between five and 15 years.

The proposed penalties, just one part of a lengthy immigration amendment bill, would apply to people-smugglers who have already committed offences or are planning to.

Indonesian immigration department spokesman Maroloan Barimbing said he hoped the legislation would proceed swiftly through the committee stage so it could be brought before the full parliament for debate soon.

“If it all goes smoothly then it could be brought to the plenary in the next session,” he said.

The next session begins on August 16.

It is unclear how long it will take the legislation to make its way through Indonesia’s notoriously slow parliament or whether it will face any resistance from lawmakers.

Some bills languish unpassed for years.

Australia has already been waiting for several years for Indonesia, where many asylum-seekers board boats bound for Australia, to outlaw people-smuggling.

Indonesia’s laws were first proposed in 2008 during a visit by former prime minister Kevin Rudd and late last year Indonesia suggested it would impose sentences of up to 10 years.

Up to now offenders have generally been charged with minor immigration offences that carry relatively light penalties.

Malaysia is also strengthening its people-smuggling laws.

Under changes expected to be passed by the Malaysian parliament next week, maximum prison sentences for people smugglers will effectively be tripled to 15 years.

If people-smugglers are found guilty of treating migrants cruelly or placing them in danger, the penalty could be as high as 20 years, the Associated Press reported.

Under Australian law, people smugglers can face up to 20 years’ jail.

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