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Home  > Human Rights & Humanitarian Law > Armed Conflict & the Law > What is Terrorism? Terrorism: Australian Law & Practise > Australia's Terror Prosecutions & the Courts

Australia's Terror Prosecutions & the Courts

[TamilNet, Saturday, 21 July 2007]

While Australian media highlighted that recent prosecutions by Australia's law enforcement gave the "appearance of a political imperative to obtain convictions and an excessive zeal for using harsh anti-terror laws," federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, suprised by the Melbourne court's decision to bail two Tamil men charged with supplying funds to Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers, appeared to shift the blame towards the Courts saying, "bail laws for people charged with terrorism offences could be reviewed if there is evidence courts are misinterpreting them. If, on appeal, those decisions were upheld, the government might well want to give the courts some further advice as to how these issues ought to be addressed," Mr Ruddock told the press in Canberra, reports said.

Victoria state Supreme Court Judge Bernard Bongiorno, releasing Aruran Vinayagamoorthy, 33, and Sivarajah Yathavan, 36, on bail 17th July said that if the "principle [normal presumption of innocence] is abandoned or even modified for political expediency, that risks the whole foundation of our criminal justice system."

Australian parliament website (see external link) charaterized charges on the Tamil detainees as "first non-muslim related" charges.

A third Tamil accused, Arumugam Rajeevan, 41, arrested in Sydney earlier this month, was also released on bail later on the same day by Chief Magistrate Ian Gray in Melbourne Magistrates Court.

Meanwhile, recent terrorism case against Queensland doctor Mohamed Haneef appears to be falling apart due to "embarrassing and highly damaging bungles by police." Queensland Premier Peter Beattie described the case against the doctor as "sloppy," and demanded explanations from the Howard Government in the interests of natural justice, and to restore confidence in anti-terror laws, papers said.

Dr Haneef, who was born in India, was charged with supporting a terrorist organisation after giving a mobile phone SIM card to a relative later accused of being involved in plotting car bomb attacks in Britain. It was later revealed the SIM card he left in Britain was not used in the failed suicide bomb attack on Glasgow airport as had been claimed.

Melbourne barrister Peter Faris QC who described the Haneef case as disastrous and an "absolute disgrace", told The Weekend Australian it was beyond belief that neither the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) nor the AFP [Australian Federal Police] had retracted the evidence if they knew it to be false. "If that's the case ... it shows monumental incompetence on the part of the commonwealth DPP and they shouldn't be prosecuting this case -- they don't have the competence."

Surveying the anti-terrorism cases prosecuted by the Crown, a report in The Australian said that the result of of excessive zeal and appearance of political imperative in persecutions "has been a succession of failed prosecutions, which has undermined confidence in the integrity of the laws and the impartiality of those whose job it is to implement them."

The laws were first used in December 2003 when a Sydney supermarket shelf-stacker, Zeky "Zac" Mallah, a "troubled orphan who got mixed up with the extremist Islamic Youth Movement" was charged with committing an act in preparation for a terrorist attack. In March 2005 a jury acquitted Mallah on the two terrorism charges. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of threatening to kill commonwealth officers and served two years in jail, the report said.

Melbourne man Jack Thomas, was charged in November 2004 with two counts of providing resources to a terrorist organisation - the same charge laid against Haneef - along with one count of receiving funds from a terrorist organisation and a further charge of possessing a falsified passport.

Thomas was tried in February 2006, the case against him relying almost entirely on an interview recorded by the Australian Federal Police in Pakistan, in the absence of a lawyer. The jury acquitted Thomas on the two main charges of providing resources to a terrorist organisation but convicted him of a lesser charge of receiving funds and using a falsified passport.

Twelve months later, Thomas's conviction was overturned after the Victorian Court of Appeal found his record of interview in Pakistan had not been voluntary and was unfair and contrary to public policy. Thomas is to face a new trial next year, based on interviews he gave to the ABC's Four Corners and Melbourne newspaper The Age, according to the report.

According to "The Australian" there has been only one successful prosecution under the anti-terrorism laws: the conviction last year of Sydney architect Faheem Khalid Lodhi, who was found guilty on three charges for plotting to blow up the national electricity grid and military bases in Sydney. Lodhi is appealing against his conviction in a case that will test the constitutional legality of the anti-terrorism regime. His lawyers argue the National Security Information Act, which has been invoked in several terrorism trials to protect information deemed to be sensitive, is unlawful under the Constitution.

Despite streamlining the legislation, high-profile terrorism cases continue to collapse over lack of evidence, "The Australian" said. In the past 14 months Queensland police have twice bungled attempts to charge people under the laws, the paper added.


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