Teenager Harun Causevic has not been found guilty of terrorism. But with police monitoring his every move, he is still far from a free man.

Causevic, 18, from Hampton Park in south-east Melbourne, was arrested in April 2015 under suspicion of being one of the “Anzac Day terrorists” and charged with one count of conspiring to do an act in preparation or planning for a terrorist act, as well as other less serious weapons charges. The alleged plot involved killing police officers and/or members of the public attending Anzac Day services.

Police were concerned Causevic might be a close friend of Numan Haider, a young man who was shot dead by police after he attacked them with a knife. Some police officers had seen Causevic carrying a black-and-white flag with Arabic writing on it. Similar writing appears on the Islamic State flag, though it also appears on the flag of Saudi Arabia.

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Conventional wisdom tells us that extremists who look like “us” — white Anglo Christian types — can never be terrorists. But when it comes to Muslim suspects, popular paranoia is such that it’s easy to generate a media circus, to turn the crazed words from the tweet of some IS twit (or pseudo-IS troll) into prophecy and to superimpose on the actions of any young man or woman a death-cultish intent to decapitate. In such an environment, only a brave magistrate would grant Causevic bail.

Denied bail, Causevic was placed in a maximum-security unit 23 hours a day with some of the most dangerous and violent prisoners in the state. He had no criminal record. After more than four months of harrowing detention, the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions announced that “there was insufficient evidence to continue the prosecution of Mr Causevic for this offence” and that the charge would be dropped.

Just how weak was the prosecution’s case is something we are unlikely to find out. But it must have been very weak if even the guilty pleas of two teenagers in the UK who were part of a plot couldn’t nail Causevic. The police brief was given to Causevic’s lawyers, who insist the evidence against their client was “flimsy”. Harun pleaded guilty to the two minor charges, and the matter was adjourned to November, after he was granted bail.

Magistrate Jelena Popovic clearly understood the consequences of a young man spending over four months in maximum security, and wanted to check in on how he was going. The Guardian reports Her Honour as telling the young man: “I really want to see how you’re going [back in the community] … My concern is you’re going to be released into the community, and I want to ensure you’re properly supported and things are going well. It’s not about making your life more difficult, it’s about actually trying to assist you with the readjustment.”

The court’s intention in checking in on Causevic might not have been about making his life more difficult. But the Federal Police had no such qualms. The Herald Sun recently reported that the AFP had applied for and been granted interim control orders for a period of 12 months. The orders are based on the same “facts” and flimsy evidence that were withdrawn by the AFP at the trial. Which, under our extreme terror laws is just fine. The evidentiary threshold for control orders is based on some vague notion of protecting the community.

The orders are extensive and include barring Harun from visiting his local RSL club as well as travelling overseas. Quite a few of the conditions make sense and are already included in bail orders made by the court, so why the AFP require them beyond Causevic’s next court date is anyone’s guess.

The strangest condition is barring Harun, whose family is Bosnian, from visiting any mosque other than a Turkish mosque in Dandenong. This Thursday the Causevic family would likely be attending the biggest religious and cultural festival of the year (called Kurban Bejram in Bosnian). There is a Bosnian mosque in Noble Park and another in Deer Park. It would probably have made more sense to allow the young man to spend time in familiar surrounds with his family and people of his ancestral culture.

But what if Causevic wanted to attend a Sufi Muslim class at Coburg Mosque? Or what if he were in the city attending counselling organised by the Islamic Council of Victoria and, while there, attended prayers at the mosque downstairs? There are over 100 mosques in Melbourne, but only one is deemed “safe” enough for this young man. His religious freedom is being restricted in a manner that reflects not just on him but on hundreds of mosques he has never visited.

The control orders contain even more stringent conditions than those orders made by the court. He has a midnight to 5am curfew in the family home, and is to wear an electronic tracking device at all times. As Fairfax observed: “The restrictions comprehensively control Mr Causevic’s movements, both in the real world and online.” It’s almost as if an attempt is being made to bait Causevic into being radicalised. Is this what control orders were supposed to do?

Control orders were perhaps the most controversial provision introduced by the Howard government in late 2005 following the London bombings. Harun Causevic is the fifth person to be subject to such orders. Should he breach any order, he could face up to five years’ imprisonment, no doubt in a maximum-security unit. We don’t see such restrictions placed on convicted murderers or rapists after they are released..

According to the court, this young man is not a terrorist. But for at least the next 12 months, he is to be effectively treated like one.​

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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