Thursday, March 22, 2007

Claim : Australian Terror Suspects Denied "Fair Go"

"Media Reports" Led To Prisoners Being Denied Physical Contact With Families, Locked In Cells For 18 Hours A Day

13 Australian terrorism suspects are before the Victorian Supreme Court in what is being billed by the media as "Australia's Biggest Terror Trial".

The charges they face relate to conspiracies to form a terrorist organisation, build bombs, finance terror activities and intent to undertake a terror attack.

From media reports about the charges and the prosecution's case, the documents for which now run to 60,000 pages of information, it is hard to assume these men are being charged with anything beyond intent, conspiracy and 'thought crimes', which on their own are crimes enough now to warrant lengthy prison sentences under the Howard government's anti-terror laws.

But the conditions under which the suspects are being held, which appear to be far beyond maximum security levels, are now threatening to distract the public from the actual charges these men face.

The defence barrister, Jim Keenan QC, claims that by the time a guilty or non-guilty verdict is handed down, these 13 men, many of whom have young children, will have been imprisoned for up to two and a half years, and that they are being treated "like convicted criminals".

As ABC News reported, Mr Keenan has claimed that the conditions they are undergoing are "offensive to any intuitive notion of a fair go".

...the court heard the men are locked in their cells for 18 hours a day, have little time with their families and are denied basic medical treatment.

The men say they cannot pray together and only get a one-hour non-contact visit a week.

In court earlier this week, the men appeared grouped together behind a sheet of plexiglass, surrounded by 16 prison officers. Or as the ABC put it, "drenched in security guards."

Justice Bernard Bongiorno commented, "I've never seen so many prison officers here before."

The prison services director, Roberick Wise, admitted to reporters that the accused men are being incarcerated under conditions which are "probably" more extreme than those endured by convicted criminals.

The court was told by Mr Wise that allowing the men access to group activities, education and hard copies of any of the 60,000 pages of prosecution documents in preparation for their July trial were actions all deemed to be "security risks".

The men's lawyer, Jim Kennan SC, told the court the conditions are contrary to Australia's Corrections Act and asked Mr Wise how Corrections Victoria had arrived at judgments about the security risk posed by the men.

Mr Wise said the decisions were based on a range of factors, including media reports.

Justice Bongiorno expressly asked Mr Kennan what he thought of the 16 prison officers in the court. Mr Kennan's answer was blunt.

"This doesn't give the impression of anything other than a very prejudicial image to the jury," he said.

"It's excessive and unnecessary, almost overwhelming."

Justice Bongiorno later said: "What seems to be missing here is any real assessment of the security risk. It seems to be assumed."