The “Barwon 13”, thirteen Melbourne men arrested, charged and on trial under Australia’s “anti-terror” laws, have won a change in their previous humiliating jail conditions.
In March, judge for the case Justice Bongiorno ruled that their trial was unfair and that the effect of such humiliating and punishing treatment resulted in them being unable to follow the complicated twists and turns of the case.
He demanded that their remand conditions be normalised or the trial would be stayed indefinitely and he might release the men on bail.
According to Rob Stary, civil rights campaigner and lawyer for six of the accused men, the Barwon 13 have endured conditions of detention and transportation that are tantamount to torture and sexual abuse, worse treatment than convicted criminals.
The men were subjected to four-hour return van rides between prison and court ever day, in a metal box without natural light or air. Their hands and feet were shackled and then tied to their waists.
On a daily basis they were strip-searched numerous times, even when coming out of secure areas and for more than two years they have been held at a maximum-security unit at Barwon prison and permitted little time out of their cell. They are merely remand prisoners.
Although Bongiorno’s ruling about conditions was an important one, he maintains that the conditions have not adversely affected the men in the trial so far. So it appears that the judge wanted to make a point, but was unwilling or unable to see the point through to a full logical and just conclusion.
One of the defence lawyers, Jim Kennan, told Justice Bongiorno that “an independent judiciary should resist presiding over unfair trials. The British courts have said we’re not going to be stood over by security services who say you must do this, you must do that”, alluding to political pressure judges face behind the scenes of high profile terror cases.
But with increasingly well funded intelligence agencies, anti-terrorism operations are big business, so it pays to keep the threat of terror alive and well, and terror suspects in the courts and jails, even when it means principles such as justice, truth and fairness are at stake.
The Barwon 13 are charged with being members of a terrorist organisation and possessing a “thing” associated with terrorism. They are not charged with committing a terrorist act, merely on the basis of their thoughts. The publicity surrounding the case demonstrates the ideological basis of such laws, a racist weapon to demonise Islam and sections of the Muslim community.
Corrections Victoria met the deadline to change conditions and the men have now been moved to a prison in the centre of Melbourne. Their unfair trial continues.
Civil Rights Defence (CRD) public
meeting: Putting the terror laws on trial
7pm Tuesday 15 April, Kaleide Theatre, RMIT, Swanston St, Melbourne.
Speakers: Peter Russo, lawyer for Dr Mohamed Haneef
David McLeod, lawyer for David Hicks
CRD meets every Tuesday 6.30pm at the New International Bookshop, Trades Hall, cnr Victoria and Lygon sts, South Carlton
Contact Gerard on 0407 856 628
By Julie Smith