Journalist and
Larvatus Prodeo blogger, Katherine Wilson, decided to go and check out the allegations for herself (for the story in full, click here). After all, she says, “it’s always tempting to suspect
these sorts of complaints are cooked
up to secure a sympathy vote”.

On the face of it, the allegation seems “pretty overblown”, writes Wilson, so in April, I joined a
group of people for a trip to Victoria’s Barwon Prison, near Geelong, to learn
more. “We met some women who’d come to support their husbands and sons:
the same men facing trial now. I was pretty concerned by what these women claimed.” She continues:

There was a limit to what they could say, because provisions in the
new terror laws limit free speech. They were evidently nervous about
saying much. But they did claim their sons and husbands are kept in
Barwon’s maximum security Acacia unit, in isolation for up to 18 hours
a day, shackled. The men allegedly see no natural light. The women
claimed the men are given no basic needs (such as a prayer mat). They
are allegedly given their 3 daily meals within a 6-hour period, and go
to bed “very hungry”.

One wife, Eman Abdou, said the men had their cells raided by 11
officers and two dogs, and were brought out in the early morning to be
strip-searched in cold cells, with arms shackled to their waist and
feet to go to court. It was claimed the men are put into noisy,
over-airconditioned vans to be transported to court in uncomfortable
positions (more than an hour travel), and by the time they arrive they
are shivering and addled.

Abdou said she’s allowed one non-contact (through glass) visit with
her husband a week. The men can’t hug their children, and most of them
have allegedly lost weight and are sick and malnourished.

It was also claimed at the that these men, wearing red suits
reminiscent of the fashion at Guantanamo, must participate in other
Guantanamo-style conventions.

The allegations, if correct, are pretty troubling, particularly the
claim that the men are in isolation for 18 hours a day and shackled. We
Corrections Victoria for their response to the list of allegations. A
spokesperson came back with this one liner: “Conditions are tough but
humane, with the prisoners
able to engage in religious observance.”

Not particularly enlightening, although the statement is most telling
for what it doesn’t say – it denies none of the allegations. And it
raises some questions. Are other prisoners at Barwon subjected to
the same “tough but humane treatment” doled out to suspected
terrorists? And given that the men haven’t yet been tried (hearings
begin this week), shouldn’t they be given a higher standard of care
rather than a lesser one?

Their rights with regard to detainment should be the same as for
other prisoners, says Peter Kemp, Associate to Sam Hegney Solicitors –
“treatment in a prison has nothing to do with sentencing nor the
alleged crime”. However, with the authorities, “including State
governments, hell bent on
proving to constituents how tough they are on terrorism, you can be
sure that corners are being cut.” The problem, he says, “is that such
alleged abuses are terribly hard to prove”.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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