Indonesian court rules Singaporean boat captain held in Riau to be detained until case goes to trial

Singaporean boat captain Shoo Chiau Huat appearing at the Tanjung Pinang district court on Thursday (Oct 27, 2015).
Singaporean boat captain Shoo Chiau Huat appearing at the Tanjung Pinang district court on Thursday (Oct 27, 2015). F. Pangestu

JAKARTA - A Tanjung Pinang district court has ruled on Thursday (Oct 27) that Singaporean boat captain Shoo Chiau Huat has to answer to a charge of entering Indonesia illegally, ending all hope of the Singaporean being released from jail on the same day.

Shoo, who was arrested on April 16 for illegal fishing and held in a Tanjung Pinang jail ever since, will now have to remain behind bars until the case goes to trial next Tuesday (Nov 1).

The judges rejected the defence's argument that the new immigration charge tendered against Shoo was redundant because it was tied to his arrest for illegal fishing which he was acquitted of in July.

According to the court's ruling, Shoo was cleared of an offence under the Fisheries Act but is now facing a fresh charge of "Entering Indonesia without a permit" under the Immigration Act. The Fisheries Act carries a maximum five years' imprisonment.

"The (new) indictment is different, so it is too early to conclude that Nebis In Idem applies, therefore it is necessary that we hear the evidence in the proceedings," said Judge Elyta Ras Ginting.

Nebis In Idem is a Latin legal term that refers to the principle of double jeopardy, which forbids a defendant from being tried again for a similar charge following a legitimate acquittal.

Shoo was carrying 13 passengers from Singapore and Malaysia on board the MV Selin when the boat was stopped by the Indonesian navy in Tanjung Berakit waters, off Bintan island, for trespassing in April.

All the passengers were deported about a week after their arrests but Shoo was charged with illegal fishing in Indonesian waters instead of trespassing.

A court in July ruled that there was insufficient evidence and acquitted him in July, but local immigration authorities later tendered with a new immigration charge instead of freeing him.

Shoo, who has been detained for more than six months now, had hoped that he would be freed and allowed to return home to Singapore.

But he now faces even more jail time because prosecutors said on Thursday that it intends to push for the maximum punishment of one year in prison for entering Indonesia illegally against Shoo.

The 50-year-old appeared dejected as the ruling was being read and translated to him in court. He declined to comment when approached by The Straits Times and asked for a moment to smoke a cigarette instead.

He had made an impassioned plea to the court for his freedom during an earlier hearing two weeks ago, saying that he had "spent enough time in lock-up and I have done my punishment" and asked that the court refrain from punishing him further.

Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry had since sent a diplomatic note to the Indonesian authorities against the detention of Shoo.

There have been a string of arrest cases involving foreign vessels and their crew allegedly caught for illegal fishing, trespassing or smuggling in Indonesia waters as the country increased sea patrols in recent years.

The move is part of a new enforcement strategy primarily targeting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, after President Joko Widodo announced plans to beef up the country's fisheries sector in recent years.

Recent arrests in Indonesian waters involving Singaporeans or Singapore-flagged fishing boats include the MV Selin, helmed by Shoo, and the Seven Seas Conqueress, piloted by Singaporean boat captain Ricky Tan Poh Hui.

Tan also remains in the custody of the Indonesian authorities pending his court hearings.

wahyudis@sph.com.sg