ON FRIDAY October 16 five Sydney men were convicted of plotting a terrorist act. First arrested in November 2005, along with four others in Sydney and 13 men in Melbourne, the fate of these men is a reminder of the need to scrap the anti-terror laws once and for all.
The conviction is not for committing, or preparing to commit a terrorist act. It is not even for planning to commit a terrorist act. The men have essentially been found guilty of agreeing to commit a terrorist act. These charges, like much of the anti-terror laws, seek to prosecute thought crime—a significant departure from regular burdens of proof.
The verdict came after the men had spent four years in jail, after 170 sitting days of the trial and after 23 days of jury deliberation (a near record). The men’s supporters, who watched a telecast of the verdict outside the courtroom, reacted with anger and despair at the news.
Little detail about the trial has been made public. We do know that the Crown presented 300 witnesses, 3000 exhibits, 30 days of surveillance tapes and 18 hours of phone intercepts—but we also know that they still presented no evidence that the five men ever planned or attempted to carry out a terrorist attack.
The defence argued that much of the Crown’s case relied on demonising the men’s political and religious views—the five men were active members of their local Muslim communities.
The Crown also tendered as evidence the men’s possession of chemicals and firearms, which the defence argued were standard for personal and professional uses.
When the conviction was handed down, it was revealed that the other four members of the “Goulburn Nine” (as the nine men arrested in Sydney in 2005 became known) pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack. These men are already serving their sentences.
The men returned to their maximum-security holdings to await sentencing submissions, which will begin on December 14. Whatever the outcome of the sentencing, it is clear that these five men will serve more time in prison for a thought crime. The terror laws under which they have been tried and found guilty are unjust, and unfairly target Muslim communities.
Unfortunately, since their election in 2007 the Rudd government has toyed with the idea of extending, rather than repealing, the anti-terror laws. These men have been victims of a gross injustice—and the laws must be overturned immediately to ensure the same does not happen to other men.
By Ernest Price

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