The extraordinary detention of Sayed Abdellatif

Check out PART THREE of my exclusive investigation with the The Guardian’s Ben Doherty on the continued detention of Egyptian asylum seeker Sayed Abdellatif, with added behind the scenes information.

PART TWO ‘Morrison’s last stand’  and PART ONE ‘Who’s afraid of Sayed Abdellatif?‘ published earlier this week, can be found here and here

Over the last few weeks I have been making the journey to Villawood detention centre, in Sydney’s south-west. After navigating forms and metal detectors I am tagged with a bright wristband and invisible ink and ushered inside.

Once inside, I have spent hours talking to Abdellatif, his wife and six children inside the secure facility. For the first time ever, they speak candidly in person, about their experiences in detention and their journey to Australia.

Sydney's Villawood detention centre. Picture: Flickr/.M.

Sydney’s Villawood detention centre. Picture: Flickr/.M.

Sayed Abdellatif and his extraordinary detention in Australian immigration

BY SARAH MALIK AND BEN DOHERTY
Exclusive: Considered a ‘dangerous terrorist’ because of previous convictions that have now been found to be false and revoked, Abdellatif, his wife and six children remain in limbo in the confused haze of the detention system

Sayed Abdellatif’s son is celebrating his 12th birthday. On a low table, plates are piled with homemade cake and colourful chunks of pomegranate, mango and kiwifruit.

The birthday boy wears sneakers and jeans. He talks loudly to his sisters and brother and mum in a broad Australian accent. The treats are offered around, and happily accepted.

It could be any party, anywhere, save for the fluorescent bands on everybody’s wrists.

The Abdellatif children are visiting their dad in a separate room just off the central visitors’ section of Sydney’s Villawood detention centre.

The whole family are detainees, and their father is considered by Australian authorities to be an extreme security risk, “plainly a dangerous terrorist” in the words of the attorney general George Brandis. Abdellatif denies the charges, which Interpol have found not to be true.
Outside the small room used by families like the Abdellatifs, the visitors’ area is packed, as it is every Sunday.

Reunited couples nuzzle in corners. Family members, friends and refugee advocates greet inmates with hugs and precious supplies from the outside. Coffee, chocolate biscuits, and food in plastic containers that have survived the metal detectors line the tables. There are no phones or cameras allowed.

Outside, Villawood is being renovated – the byzantine centre is a maze of gravel paths and patches of barren land cordoned off for expansion. Beyond that is the wire – the imposing metal fence that surrounds Villawood, the boundary that separates it from the outside world. Further still there is Sydney.

And at the centre of these concentric circles, behind the unknowable rings of security, sits Sayed Abdellatif.

Weary from 18 years in exile, two and a half of those in the confused haze of the Australian immigration detention system, he explains why he has chosen to talk.

“We were being badly treated by the immigration department,” he says. “We were silent … but that wasn’t because we were doing anything wrong. But this way didn’t work. We have to change plan.”

Sydney's Villawood detention centre. Picture: Flickr/ DIPB images

Sydney’s Villawood detention centre. Picture: Flickr/ DIPB images

A life of exile

Abdellatif’s story is that of a lifetime in exile.

The 44-year-old Egyptian has not lived in his home country since 1992. His children have known only lives in the shadows of societies all over the world, or trapped in detention.

Abdellatif left Egypt for Albania in 1992. There he worked for a civil society organisation called the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS).

He met and married his wife in Albania. His eldest daughter was born there in 1995. But the family was forced to flee in 1997, after a civil uprising toppled the government and plunged the country into an economic crisis.

“We were forced to leave,” Abdellatif says. “The only way we had at that time was UK.”

Three more children were born in the UK – in 1997, 1998 and 2000 – before the Abdellatifs were forced out to Iran in 2001. Their son, the boy who celebrates his birthday in detention today, was born in Iran in 2003.

In Iran the family were arrested as illegal immigrants. They lived for a time in an Iraqi refugee camp before spending years under house arrest.

In May 2010, an Iraqi people smuggler moved the family through Malaysia and Indonesia, in the hope of taking them back to the UK. They were stopped in Singapore and deported back to Indonesia.

“When we came back to Indonesia we were arrested by Indonesian immigration,” Abdellatif says. “Once we were arrested we applied for asylum at the UNHCR in Jakarta.”

The family spent four months in detention and had two interviews with UNHCR officers, before spending two years in the refugee “queue” waiting for a determination on their status. The family’s youngest child, a boy, was born in Indonesia in 2010.

The family spent long months, as thousands across the Indonesian archipelago do, waiting for a refugee determination. “Then we lost hope,” says Abdellatif. Running out of money, he says, with no answer forthcoming from the overrun refugee agency, the family made a decision to find a boat bound for Australia.

“We always had a hope to arrive in a safe place.”

As Abdellatif speaks, his four daughters sit, wearing neat hijabs, next to their bespectacled mother. His two boys, 12 and four, stomp noisily in and out of the glass-panelled room.

The children are allowed to leave the Villawood compound to attend school. The girls go to the local high school nearby. The two eldest, 19 and 17, will sit the HSC this year. They walk to school under guard each day.

One daughter says it is difficult to explain the toll detention has had on her family during the many years in the UK, Iran and Indonesia.

“We already lost so many years of our life … it just feels like it’s going on forever. I’ve lived more than half my life in detention,” she says.

The demands of school make regular visits difficult.

“We don’t see Dad except on weekends,” she says, “we don’t sit as a family. I don’t remember the last time we had a proper meal together.”

Interpol and quashed convictions

The Abdellatif family’s detention in Australia began unexceptionally.

Housed in the low-security Inverbrackie detention centre in South Australia, they awaited release into the community after an Asio recommendation they be allowed to leave detention (a decision the spy agency has since recanted as a “processing error”, the first in a litany of government mistakes in the case).

But the family’s situation was cast into sudden national prominence in April 2013, when it was discovered Sayed Abdellatif was the subject of an Interpol “red notice” for murder and firearms charges in his home country.

The Abbott-led Coalition, then in opposition, used the case to lambast the Gillard government’s handling of border security. Labelling Abdellatif a “pool fence terrorist”, Abbott said the government had failed to notice that a “convicted jihadist terrorist was kept for almost 12 months behind a pool fence”.

Abdellatif says he first became aware of the firearm and murder convictions against him through the media.

“My name become in the media … (it was) huge, huge propaganda. I was shocked at that time,” he says, adding that he was given little information about why he was transferred to Villawood’s high-security Blaxland compound.

Although he was later transferred to a medium-security area within Villawood, he remains separated from his family, who live in the family compound. They have declined an offer from immigration to be removed into the community because they don’t want to be separated from their father.

The Abdellatifs live divided. Half-lives, neither in Australia nor out. They cannot be deported because of the real risk of persecution in Egypt, but by ministerial decree they are unable to apply for a visa.

Their detention is indefinite.

The Abdellatif case took a dramatic turn in June 2013 after an investigation by the Guardian, in both Egypt and Australia, resulted in the violence-related convictions against Abdellatif being quashed.

Abdellatif had been convicted in an Egyptian military court, in a 1999 mass trial of 107 men, of premeditated murder, destruction of property and possession of firearms and explosives.

The Guardian contacted the Egyptian authorities following interviews with Abdellatif’s lawyers and verified court documents that showed his convictions made no mention of murder or explosives possession.

As a result, Interpol took the extremely rare step of removing all charges relating to violence from their red notice list.

A red notice on Abdellatif’s name still exists. It now lists convictions for “membership in a terrorist group” and “providing forged travel documents”, charges Abdellatif strenuously denies.

The terror conviction relates to allegations that Abdellatif was an operative of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, but he told Guardian Australia: “I have never been a member of any group. The Egyptian government [under President Mubarak] used to falsely paste this charge to any person they want to punish or to get rid of.”

Abdellatif’s only other purported “link” with terrorism was his employment by the Albanian branch of the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society. This was mentioned at his 1999 trial, but was not part of his conviction.

Abdellatif worked for RIHS, a multi-national Islamic civil society organisation, between 1992 and 1996. It was later infiltrated by al-Qaida and outlawed by the UN.

Abdellatif claims the Albanian branch was “clear” when he worked there and he never had any involvement in organising or funding terrorism.

“It was a charity organisation. We were building mosques, supporting adoption.”

Abdellatif also denies ever forging documents.

Now new documents, subsequently submitted to Egypt’s supreme military court, and provided to the Australian government more than 12 months ago, state that the evidence used to convict Abdellatif was obtained under torture.

Abdellatif’s father, Ahmed, who gave evidence against his son in the original trial, signed a statutory declaration in 2013, stating: “All of what has been said as my words regarding my son … are incorrect and were said due [to] compulsion and torture by the interrogating authority.”

Abdellatif’s brother-in-law, who similarly testified against his relative, signed an affidavit: “all the statements that were attributed to me in the public prosecution investigation, especially the statements that mention Sayed Abdellatif, were written from the security book and dictated by the Deputy Public Prosecutor. I objected to the statements and I denied them. I was subjected to torture and electrocution in order to sign the paper.”

The State Security Investigations Service, the principal domestic security and intelligence agency of the Mubarak regime, which conducted the investigation, was dissolved in 2011, after evidence emerged it was involved in “extraordinary rendition”, and tools of torture and secret cells were uncovered at its headquarters.

In 2012, the court re-tried seven of the original 107 convicted men. All seven were acquitted, the court finding the evidence used in the original convictions was obtained under torture.

“The court, having verified the claim documents, hearing witnesses for and against the prosecution, and comparing the crime and innocence evidence … it seems that the claim and accusations against those accused are surrounded by thick layers of doubt and suspicion that weakens the evidence derived therefrom,” the court ruling says.

Abdellatif says these documents were passed to the immigration department, the AFP and Asio in December 2013.

“Every government will understand this trial is a political trial. This trial had 107 accused. We don’t know each other. We never met with each other.” He says confessions were extracted under torture and played off against each other. But the new evidence, he says, has not moved his case forward.

“Every time we give them [Australian authorities] new evidence the reaction is punishment.

“We received very bad treatment, unjust treatment, and still [we are] receiving this treatment.”

The Australian Federal Police told Guardian Australia it did not make recommendations on immigration matters, and that the extent of its inquiries into Abdellatif were to establish his identity.

“The information contained in the Interpol Red Notice and any investigation into these allegations is a matter for the Egyptian authorities,” the AFP said.

The AFP said other inquiries regarding Abdellatif’s status should be directed to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Asio refused to answer questions about Abdellatif.

The immigration minister Peter Dutton has refused to comment on Abdellatif’s case. His department would say only that security issues were a matter for Asio and, “the department has offered Mr Abdullatif’s [sic] family placement in the community. They declined this offer.”

The Abdellatifs say they declined because they do not want to be separated from their husband and father. And regardless of where they are housed, Abdellatif’s family cannot – and unless the minister’s decision is overturned, can never – apply for a visa.

Life in Australia

Abdellatif looks tired.

“When we decided to come to Australia we had a big hope to come and start a new life.”

One of his older daughters translates the difficult English phrases into Arabic for him. She breaks down in tears as she talks about the difficulties of being separated from her dad.

Abdellatif watches on silently. The breakdown in composure and the language difficulties compound his powerlessness. His daughters are teenagers still, but burdened with adult realities.

“After what happened to us in Australia we are very disappointed,” he says.

Abdellatif suffers Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel condition, and he has twice gone on hunger strike in detention.

“When I become frustrated or angry my Crohn’s disease becomes very active and painful,” he says. “I can’t sleep. I can’t sit on the chair.” He says he has suffered bleeding and weight loss in detention, and his family worries for his health.

One of his daughters speaks. She says the effect of the family’s experiences in detention has been compounded by the expectation that life in Australia would be different.

“We have seen all detention in all countries. What happened in other countries we expected it. But in Australia I expected they would follow the rules and respect human rights.”

From Villawood’s less-regimented family compound, his wife and children make regular visits to see their father and husband. They all feel trapped by their father’s legal limbo.

“We are completely frozen,” one daughter says. “We need the minister to lift the bar and allow us to apply for permanent visa.”

For the Abdellatif children, a future of apparently-endless detention is a bleak uncertainty. They struggle for the smallest normalities. At school, the girls are often invited out to parties. They can never go, or even explain why.

“They [my friends] think I’m rude,” one daughter says. “It kills. Every day you wake up, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The girls studying for their HSC have to compete with 40 other detainees for access to three computers for their one hour of daily internet time. It makes studying and finishing assignments difficult. A younger sister says detention is “like being trapped in a place where you can’t see anything … like a blank page”.

And another says the impact of being separated from their father is fraying their own relationships. Sometimes her siblings will sullenly withdraw, retreating to rooms and refusing to talk. Or they’ll fight with each other and scream.

“If I knew I had done something wrong and was being punished for it, I’d accept it,” she says. “What makes it harder is that I know none of us has done anything wrong.”

Her life is a carefully-circumscribed existence, of wristbands and metal detectors, of visiting hours and security details following her to school.

Her dream is simple: “To go to the mall with my friends.”

This article originally appeared in the Guardian on 18/2/15.

Morrison’s last stand

Check out PART TWO of my exclusive investigation with the The Guardian’s Ben Doherty on the continued detention of Egyptian asylum seeker Sayed Abdellatif.

PART ONE ‘Who’s afraid of Sayed Abdellatif?‘ published yesterday, can be found here.

 

Former Immigration Minister Scott Minister. Picture: Twitter

Former Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Twitter

PART TWO

EXCLUSIVE: Morrison defied advice in denying Sayed Abdellatif chance to apply for visa

BY SARAH MALIK AND BEN DOHERTY

In one of his final acts as immigration minister, Scott Morrison defied the advice of his officials by refusing to allow asylum seeker Sayed Abdellatif to apply for a visa, despite all convictions for violence against him being found to be false. A government agency has also said he was no threat to national security.

The Egyptian father of six, falsely convicted in absentia of murder in a mass show trial that has since been discredited in his home country, remains in indefinite secure detention in Australia by ministerial order, more than a year after the minister’s own department chief said he should be considered for a visa.

A 2013 Guardian Australia investigation into irregularities in Abdellatif’s trial resulted in Interpol dropping all convictions for violence against him.

And court documents revealed by Guardian Australia – that have been provided to Australian authorities – state that the admissions used to convict Abdellatif on other charges, including testimony from his father and brother-in-law, were obtained under torture.

Despite the removal of all of the convictions involving violence, and serious doubts raised about the remaining crimes, Abdellatif remains incarcerated in a secure wing of Villawood, separated from his family, and facing the real prospect of indefinite detention, in immigration limbo until he dies.

Sydney's Villawood detention centre. Picture: Flickr/ DIPB images

Sydney’s Villawood detention centre. Picture: Flickr/ DIPB images

It is also in spite of the government finding he and his family have a prima facie legitimate claim to refugee status, and the head of the immigration department asking then minister Morrison to consider allowing Abdellatif to apply for a visa.

A year ago, then secretary of the immigration department, Martin Bowles, wrote that a submission had been sent to Morrison, requesting he consider “lifting the bar” against Abdellatif applying for a visa.

“The submission requests minister Morrison’s consideration of his non-delegable, non-compellable power to lift the … bar for Mr Abdellatif and his family,” Bowles wrote.

However, after 10 months’ consideration, and in the final days of his term as immigration minister, on 10 December last year, Morrison refused to allow Abdellatif to apply for a visa.

Guardian Australia has obtained a copy of the letter sent to Abdellatif:

“After careful consideration of your case … the minister was not satisfied that it is in the public interest to exercise his power … to lift the application bar and allow you and your family to make an application for a protection … visa,” it says.

The minister offered no reason for his refusal, made under Section 46A(2) of the Migration Act, which grants the minister broad powers to refuse a visa application on grounds of undefined “public interest”.

Only the immigration minister can lift the bar.

Asked on Sky News to respond to Guardian Australia’s story about denying advice on Abdellatif’s case, Morrison said: “I don’t get into the habit of commenting on commentary. That report – I can’t verify that and I don’t think they can either.

“I never get into the habit of discussing what advice was provided to me as ministers and I’m quite sure that any advice they believe they have would not have been the full picture of the brief that was presented to me.

“That case did involve some security issues at the time and I’m not going to go into any further detail about that. The decision I made at that time was made at that time. It’s for other ministers to deal with how the situation may have regressed till today.”

The power now rests with Morrison’s successor, Peter Dutton. He refused to answer written inquiries about Abdellatif but a source within his department said the minister was aware of the case.

A spokesman for the department said it had “offered Mr Abdellatif’s family placement in the community. They declined this offer”. Abdellatif’s family say they do not want to be separated from their husband and father.

Morrison did not respond to questions on his decision to deny Abdellatif, as well as his wife and six children, the right to apply for a visa.

The Australian federal police told Guardian Australia it did not make recommendations on immigration matters, and that the extent of its inquiries into Abdellatif were to establish his identity. “The information contained in the Interpol Red Notice and any investigation into these allegations is a matter for the Egyptian authorities.”

The AFP directed all other inquiries on Abdellatif to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Asio, however, refused to answer questions, saying it “does not comment on individuals or investigations”.

However, Guardian Australia has confirmed Abdellatif remains the subject of an “adverse” security assessment by Asio, despite the withdrawal of all convictions for violence against him, and significant concerns over the fairness of his trial.

The case has been a consistent embarrassment to Australian authorities – in particular the immigration department, the AFP and Asio – whose handling of the case was condemned in a report by the inspector general of intelligence and security.

Dr Vivienne Thom found that the AFP was provided with evidence, in Arabic, showing Abdellatif’s convictions for violent crimes were false, and had been removed.

It took the agency six months to translate the documents, but, even then, the AFP did not tell Asio or immigration of this information.

“Overall there was a lack of co-ordination, a duplication of effort and a lack of urgency in obtaining information about whether a person in immigration detention potentially matched a national security alert.”

The inspector general’s report made it clear Abdellatif was not a threat to national security.

This article originally appeared in The Guardian on 17/1/15. 

Who’s afraid of Sayed Abdellatif?

Some news, dear readers. I have recently been working on a lengthy investigation with the The Guardian’s Ben Doherty on the continued detention of Egyptian asylum seeker Sayed Abdellatif.

For those who aren’t familiar with the case, Abdellatif and his family attracted national media attention in 2013 when Tony Abbott, then in opposition dubbed him the ‘pool fence’ terrorist and slammed the Labor government of the day for failing to note that a ‘convicted jihadist terrorist was kept for almost 12 months behind a pool fence’.

A Guardian investigation later exonerated him of all violence-related offences, dating back the Mubarak dictatorship era, contradicting claims Abdellatif was a security threat.

I spent hours with Abdellatif and his family inside Villawood detention centre. The family who have been denied the right to apply for an Australian visa, remain in limbo. For the first time they speak about  life in detention and  reflections on being Australia’s most infamous detainees.

We also reveal new documents which show evidence used to convict Abdellatif in an Egyptian military court – the basis for his indefinite detention in Australia – was obtained by torture.

Check out the first instalment here with further updates and behind the scenes information on the blog.

Sydney's Villawood detention centre. Picture: Flickr/ DIPB images

Sydney’s Villawood detention centre. Picture: Flickr/ DIPB images

PART ONE 

Revealed: indefinite detention of asylum seeker is based on conviction secured by torture

Exclusive: Sayed Abdellatif faces a lifetime of indefinite detention in Australia because of an adverse Asio assessment relying on evidence from an Egyptian court which documents show was obtained by torture

BY SARAH MALIK AND BEN DOHERTY

Evidence used to convict asylum seeker Sayed Abdellatif in an Egyptian military court – the basis for his indefinite detention in Australia – was obtained by torture, court documents state.

The Egyptian father of six, falsely convicted in absentia of murder in a mass show trial that has since been discredited in his home country, remains in indefinite secure detention in Australia, despite the inspector general of intelligence and security finding he was not a threat to national security.

The three most serious convictions against him were found to be false, and entirely discarded by Interpol, following a Guardian Australia investigation two years ago.

Now, court documents state torture, including by electric shock, was used to gather false admissions on other charges against him.

Abdellatif’s own father, forced to give evidence against his son more than a decade ago, has sworn before a Cairo court “my words regarding my son… are incorrect and were said due [to] compulsion and torture by investigating authorities”.

Despite the new information, 44-year-old Abdellatif faces a lifetime of indefinite detention in Australia without charge or the prospect of release and sees only “a dark future”.

“I will be ignored for years … they used my life and my family’s life as a game,” he told Guardian Australia.

In his first interview from inside detention, Abdellatif spoke of the difficulties of being separated from his wife and children inside Sydney’s Villawood centre where they are all held.

His six children, who must wear security wrist-bands to see their father, only want to lead normal lives, he says, lives where they don’t have to walk to school flanked by security guards.

“We don’t see Dad except on weekends,” one of his daughters said. “We don’t sit as a family, I don’t remember the last time we had a proper meal together.”

The Australian government has found Abdellatif and his family have a prima facie legitimate claim to refugee status, but the Egyptian convictions have caused his asylum case to stall.

Abdellatif was convicted in 1999 in a mass trial of 107 men in Cairo military court.

The trial was widely condemned, by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and others, as a political show trial, that relied on evidence obtained under torture, and was contrived to marginalise Islamist political opposition to the Mubarak regime.

In absentia, Abdellatif was convicted of premeditated murder, firearms possession, property destruction, membership of a terrorist group, and document forgery.

In 2013, a Guardian Australia investigation into Abdellatif’s trial showed there was no mention of murder, weapons, or property destruction at his trial.

The investigation resulted in Interpol dropping all convictions for violence against Abdellatif.

Abdellatif’s original 1999 conviction relies on the evidence of five men also accused in the same mass trial (one of whom has since been hanged), an Egyptian army officer, and Abdellatif’s father. The evidence presented to the court alleges Abdellatif was a member of a terror network, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, that attended meetings of the group, and helped illicitly move money to members.

Abdellatif has consistently denied the allegations. He told Guardian Australia: “I have never been a member of any group. The Egyptian government [under Mubarak] used to falsely paste this charge to any person they want to punish or to get rid of.”

Now, 2013 court documents – obtained by Guardian Australia, and that have also been provided to the Australian authorities – state that the admissions used to convict Abdellatif, including testimony from his father and brother-in-law, were obtained under torture.

The documents have been verified by authorities in Cairo.

The 1999 court documents state that Abdellatif’s father, Ahmed, told investigators his son had occasionally sent him money, usually in the hundreds of dollars, to be deposited in certain accounts, and that his son “belongs to a religious group but [his father] did not know the name of the group”.

However, a testified declaration signed by Abdellatif’s father states: “I declare that all of what has been said as my words regarding my son… are incorrect and were said due [to] compulsion and torture by investigating authorities”.

Abdellatif’s brother-in-law, Essam Abdel Tawwab, a co-accused in the 1999 trial, gave evidence then that Abdellatif was a member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

But in 2013, he told the ministry of justice in a signed affidavit: “I … declare that all the statements that were attributed to me in the public prosecution … especially the statements that mention Sayed Ahmed Abdelmaksoud Abdellatif were written from the Security book and dictated by the Deputy Public Prosecutor. I objected to the statements and I denied them. I was subjected to torture and electrocution in order to sign the paper.”

Affidavits submitted to the Egyptian supreme military court from two more of the co-accused who gave evidence against Abdellatif state: “their confessions in this case were the result of severe torture and physical and moral compulsion that they were subjected to by the dissolved State Security Apparatus”.

The State Security Investigations Service, the principal domestic security and intelligence agency of the Mubarak regime, and which conducted the investigation, was dissolved in 2011, after evidence emerged it was involved in “extraordinary rendition”, and tools of torture and secret cells were uncovered at its headquarters.

In a 2012 re-trial of seven of the convicted men, Egypt’s supreme military court ruled on the evidence presented in the mass trial of the 107: “the claims and accusations against those accused are surrounded by thick layers of doubt and suspicion that weakens the evidence derived therefrom”. All seven were acquitted.

An Interpol red notice on Abdellatif’s name still exists. It now lists convictions for “membership in a terrorist group” and “providing forged travel documents”, charges Abdellatif strenuously denies.

The terror conviction relates to allegations that Abdellatif was an operative of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, of which he said “I have never been a member”.

His only other purported “link” with terrorism was his employment by the Albanian branch of the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society. This was mentioned at his 1999 trial, but was not part of his conviction.

Abdellatif left RIHS, an multi-national Islamic civil society organisation, in 1996.

Six years later, in 2002 – and three years after Abdellatif’s convictions in Cairo – the Pakistan and Afghanistan branches of RIHS were proscribed by the United Nations after they were infiltrated by al-Qaida.

Those branches alone remain outlawed. The UN’s Consolidated List of wanted terrorists and terror organisations states: “Only the Pakistan and Afghanistan offices of this entity are designated”.

However, in 2008, the US government banned the organisation worldwide, alleging it “used charity and humanitarian assistance as cover to fund terrorist activity”.

Abdellatif claims, while he worked at RIHS, the Albanian branch was “clear” and he never had any involvement in organising or funding terrorism.

“It was a charity organisation. We were building mosques, supporting adoption.”

Abdellatif’s employment by RIHS has never been part of any conviction against him. No authorities have ever alleged his involvement with RIHS was improper, or linked to any terrorist activities.

Abdellatif also denies the final Interpol conviction: providing forged travel documents.

A report last year by Australia’s inspector general of intelligence and security found Abdellatif did not attempt to conceal, or lie about, his identity to Australian authorities at any time.

Abdellatif has provided the Egyptian court documents, and translations, to Australian authorities.

The Australian federal police said its inquiries were simply “to ascertain the identity of Mr Abdellatif”.

“The information contained in the Interpol Red Notice and any investigation into these allegations is a matter for the Egyptian authorities.”

The AFP directed all other inquiries on Abdellatif to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Asio, however, refused to answer questions, saying it “does not comment on individuals or investigations”.

However, a source with knowledge of the case confirmed Abdellatif remains the subject of an “adverse” security assessment by Asio, despite the withdrawal of all convictions for violence against him, and significant concerns over the fairness of his trial on other charges.

Abdellatif’s wife and children have been refused protection visas but told by immigration they can live in the community. They declined, saying they did not want to be separated from their husband and father.

From his detention compound in Villawood, Abdellatif told Guardian Australia he had been honest with Australian authorities “but they cheated me”.

He said Australian Federal Police did not reveal to him the details of the initial “red notice”, and he was not told of the false convictions against him.

“The first time I became aware [of the charges] was from the media. I was shocked.

“During the interview with AFP I told them everything, but they hid everything from me. They didn’t tell me anything. I didn’t know why I was put at extreme level of risk.”

Abdellatif says he has lost faith in the Australian government, which he believes is keeping him incarcerated out of embarrassment at its own consistent mishandling of his case.

“They don’t want to say sorry. They want to say ‘we were right and you were wrong’.”

“We are innocent people and we proved our innocence,” Abdellatif says. “I want to prove my innocence to the Australian community because I don’t trust the Australian government.”

The inspector general’s report from last year said Abdellatif was not a threat to national security.

The report also heavily criticised Asio, the AFP and the immigration department for their handling of the case, saying the authorities lacked urgency, withheld information from each other, and made basic errors.

This article originally appeared in The Guardian on the 16/1/15. 

What kind of ‘Serial’ fan are you?

serial

‘Serial’ has broken the internet. Picture: Casey Fiesler/Flickr

If you have not heard of ‘Serial’ yet- chances are you are living under a rock or one of those annoying I-hate- the-internet type people that must immediately stop reading because nothing I say will be relevant to you.

If you are part of the rest of the 99 per cent of the population you will know what I am talking about. The wildly successful podcast produced by the creators ‘This American Life’ (TAL) re-investigates the 1999 homicide of American teenager Hae Min Lee in Baltimore County, Maryland and has basically broken the Internet.

Journalist Sarah Koenig interviews various players in the case, namely Lee’s ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed. Syed who maintains his innocence is currently serving life imprisonment for her murder based on the eye-witness testimony of star witness Jay Wilds.

Even after its conclusion the podcast has spawned mega cyber hits and controversies. Wilds, who refused to be interviewed by Koenig, recently hit back at his portrayal in the podcast and the internet stalking it has fuelled in an interview with The Intercept.

Serial’s mesmerising part documentary, part editorial format invites the listener on Koenig’s journey as she navigates the murky waters of crime, the justice system, truth, memory and the strange beast that is the modern jury. The response to the podcast has in turn provoked questions on privacy, the internet and trial by media in the modern age.

Beyond these very serious questions however is the more pressing one on how to discuss the internet phenomenon of our times. ‘Serial’ is a phenomenon akin to being stranded on a desert island- it invites strange intimacies with unlikely bedfellows. Long conversations and speculation bonding strangers as they try to nut out and solve the conundrum of ‘Serial’.

Those who parry tend to fall into these main categories:

Total Noob

The TN will come in late in the conversation; usually having binge listened to the podcast after realising they don’t understand any of the conversations around them. They will enter the fray armed with what they think is an impressive contribution, but mispronounce someone’s name or have no recount of basic information like the call log. They will get stuck on a piece of information long after the topic has been dissected, dealt with and explained.

The Know-It-All

They started listening to ‘Serial’ before it became famous. They have an account on reddit. They get the Crab Crib reference. They probably introduced you to the podcast. They are the first to post or message you with the latest hilarious parody or update and know all the extraneous, context information. THEY WOULD ALSO LIKE TO REMIND EVERYONE OF THAT FACT. There is nothing worse to the know-it-all then to be shown up by a more hardcore know-it-all. The benefits of talking to the know-it-all is as long as you exhibit the proper homage; you have a personal ‘Serial’ breaking news service.

 Sitting on the Fence but don’t think there is Enough Evidence to Convict

Well du’h. The most obvious and safe position. The sitting on the fence guy is usually the good guy in the office who shuns gossip and just wants to avoid confrontation. They won’t hazard a theory because they’re modest enough to admit they just don’t know.

I’ve Got a Feeling

The ‘I’ve got a feeling’ person will pretty much bypass all evidence to create their own judgment based on their ‘gut feeling’.

This fan is very much in touch with their emotions. She’ll say things like: ‘He just doesn’t sound guilty to me’, or ‘I don’t trust him’. The ‘I’ve got a feeling fan’ relies on what they believe is their highly developed perception, which is like an in-built lie detector test that allows them to magically read people. They will analyse voice inflection and character and feel they can imaginatively enter into the minds of main players and surmise their inner most motivations.

 Solved it Cowboy

The solved it cowboy is completely invested in their verdict and is not open to dialogue or negotiation. The case that has puzzled legal minds and hard working journalists and advocates is really an open and shut case to the cowboy. The solved it cowboy (usually male) just knows how it all went down and won’t bother with the fine details or ambiguity, because well… trust him on this one.

 The Moral High Ground Crusader

The MHGC will go to great lengths to lament how tragic or exploitative the media/justice system/the case is just to prove how much finer their sensibilities are. They will however continue voraciously consuming and critiquing anyway.

If you are the first to share this article with your friends, you know who you are. If it is shared to you, I’m sorry sister but you’re a TN for life

How many times must a Muslim apologise, before you can call him a moderate Muslim?

My latest piece in ABC’s The Drum on the recent terror raids and the controversy around Senator Jacqui Lambie’s comments. Let me know what you think! If you’re confused by my headline it’s a play on Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the wind’ :p

UPDATE: Breaking news- One dead, two stabbed in Endeavour Hills.

How many times must Muslim “moderates” distance themselves from the atrocities of people who call themselves Muslim but who so often demonstrate a feeble understanding of the faith? 

The recent terror raids in which 800 police officers were needed to charge four men was reminiscent of an episode of Homeland, while our political leaders appear to be enthusiastically beating the drums of war with rhetoric that will only inflame community tensions.

And it hasn’t taken Jacqui Lambie long to jump on the hysteria bandwagon.

Senator Lambie’s nonsensical outburst equating sharia law – a set of ever-evolving legal precepts by which Muslims live – with terrorism was staggering in its ignorance, as was her assertion that those who get “mixed up” in it should “pack their bags and get out of the country”.

For most Muslims – especially Muslim migrants in the West who sought to escape the legal dysfunction of their home countries – sharia is about the religious rituals that regulate personal matters like fasting, charity, praying, finance and family life.

This understanding of sharia is a far cry from the gruesome images that have recently dominated headlines.

By equating Muslim practice with terrorism, Lambie casts suspicion on the vast majority of ordinary, law-abiding Muslims. In fact, UK Huffington Post political director Mehdi Hasan cites research suggesting a proper understanding of sharia could actually work to combat radicalism. Hasan notes that wannabe jihadists are rarely motivated by religious fervour, and in fact tend to live unIslamic lifestyles:

Can you guess which books the wannabe jihadists Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed ordered online from Amazon before they set out from Birmingham to fight in Syria last May? Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies.

You could not ask for better evidence to bolster the argument that the 1,400-year-old Islamic faith has little to do with the modern jihadist movement … instead they (experts) point to other drivers of radicalisation: moral outrage, disaffection, peer pressure, the search for a new identity, for a sense of belonging and purpose.

One of the Sydney men in custody, Omarjan Azari, allegedly conspired with Kings Cross nightclub bouncer Mohammad Baryalei (who had appeared as an actor in Underbelly: The Golden Mile) to commit random public beheadings. They are hardly models for Islamic piety.

This doesn’t matter to Lambie. In the world according to Lambie, it’s not enough to reject extremism – the only way for Muslims to show their allegiance is to reject their adherence to sharia practices altogether. It furthers the feeling among Muslims that no condemnation, no disavowal, no distancing will ever be enough.

Muslims are obligated to apologise for every atrocity committed anywhere on Earth by anyone who calls themselves Muslim, in a way that is not expected of any other group. There is that constant refrain, “When will the moderates stand up?”

Every mainstream Islamic organisation in Australia and around the world has sent out press releases condemning the wanton killing of civilians. The efforts of Muslim communities to create bridges are tireless, from Twitter campaigns like #notinmyname, to UK Imams against ISIS, but they rarely make headlines.

This is the moment our leaders need to step up, to use the language of inclusion to get minority communities on board and to reassure them of their place in Australia. But instead we have had gung-ho Captain Tony with his own version of “with us or against us”.

We are told that no dissenters will be tolerated in the creepy cult-sounding ‘Team Australia’, which implies a suspicion of those not perceived to be onboard Team Groupthink. When our political leaders fan the flames of division, vandals and Islamophobes almost get tacit approval – it sends a message that some citizens are worth more than others, and deserve our disapprobation.

Beefed-up terrorism laws, graffitied mosques and cars, threatening letters and angry political rhetoric has made Muslim communities in all their diversity feel increasingly under siege, ironically fuelling the kind of alienation that sees young people fall into the arms of radicals.

The fact that street abuse and harassment has prompted communities to set up self-reporting mechanisms like Facebook’s National Islamophobia Register, rather than go to police, is a testament to the level of distrust between minority communities and the authorities that are meant to protect all citizens.

In this climate, what arguments can Muslim community leaders use to sway young men who could fall victim to the siren call of radicalism, and those who use Muslim victimisation and discrimination as a rallying call to disengage?

I am not saying the risk of terrorism in Australia isn’t real. But the spectacle of the Federal Government’s response to perceived threats – the rhetoric and ballast and heavy performance of power – risks sending people underground while alienating the very communities that could assist.

This performance around security points to a kind of politics of fear that is depressingly familiar in Australian politics, and is reminiscent of the Government’s treatment of asylum seekers.

The best way to shore up an unpopular government is to summon up something else for voters to fear and hate, so that we can turn to daddy with gratitude for rescuing us. If this means trashing decades of goodwill built up in our pluralistic society and smashing a few civil liberties on the way, then so be it.

This article was originally published on ABC’s The Drum (http://www.abc.net.au/thedrum). Read the original article here http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-23/malik-a-real-understanding-of-sharia/5763376.

It’s all fun and games until Twitter turns nasty

Check out my latest piece on social media trolling. Here’s what to do when social media gets nasty:

The harassment of Robin Williams' daughter and Charlotte Dawson reveal the nasty side of social media. Picture: AFP/ABC News.

The harassment of Robin Williams’ daughter and Charlotte Dawson reveal the nasty side of social media. Picture: AFP/ABC News.

The immediacy and reach of social media can be empowering, but when it’s used purely for harassment the flaws of the system are revealed, as too many have recently discovered, writes Sarah Malik.

There’s a reason why it’s advised to avoid religion and politics in polite company. Add self-appointed punditry and social media to the fusion and you have a recipe for immediate combustion.

Get together with any group of friends and you will hear war stories on friendships strained and out-of-control online debates that veer into a blood sport.

A recent piece in the New York Times suggested 69 per cent of social media users have witnessed digital cruelty. Moderators at the The Guardian recently considered whether online anonymity should be an option rather than the default position in commentary after noting an eruption of particularly vile contributions around controversial topics, like gender issues.

Barely a week goes by without a Twitter controversy that wrecks careers and even destroy lives, from the hilarious to the tragic. Who could forget the tragi-comedy that was Weiner-gate and most recentlyBotham-gate that forced spluttering explanations on why public Twitter accounts had been plastered with mysterious genitalia, the former that derailed a promising political career.

Most recently Robin Williams’ daughter was forced to quit Twitter after trolls hounded her online, and earlier this year the suicide of TV personality Charlotte Dawson shocked Australia amid reports of Twitter bullying. Disturbingly women seem to be the most common target of these attacks.

The swift brutality of internet campaigns can also claim high profile scalps, with Sydney Morning Herald columnist Mike Carlton earlier this month quitting after coming under fire when he snapped responding tounprecedented internet trolling after writing a searing piece on the carnage in Gaza.

Alan Moran from the right-wing think tank, Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) was reportedly given the sack after allegedly tweeting “Is there ever anything but evil coming from Islam?”

Perhaps a little more strident than the IPA’s usual fare.

The online world has become inescapably woven into our social experiences and the way we process events in the 24-hour news age. For the punter unsure how to deal with it all, there have spouted a corresponding multitude of pieces advising on navigating social media and argument in the internet age from losing friends on Facebook over political differences, to dealing with online trolls, and cautionary warnings on the end of the columnist golden age.

#firstworldproblem, right? The immediacy of the internet means no more filters between your own thoughts and the world, or you and the object of your disdain.

The lack of filters is not an entirely negative. In the case of public figures, tweeting, Facebook, live radio and TV blunders can provide a delicious insight into a personality outside a perfectly crafted PR image. When it comes to the crazy and entertaining, you don’t get better than Clive Palmer, in hot water over his most recent bizarre outburst labelling the Chinese “mongrels” on ABC talk show Q&A. It follows Palmer United party cohort Jacqui Lambie, who seems to have taken a leaf from the Clive book of inappropriate comments, with her oversharing of her partner preferences on radio.

I can’t help but feel this is almost a flip side of a timid age where public figures and even private individuals unleash after being constrained in a world of tightly scripted image building and the niceties forced in IRL (internet speak for “in real life”) encounters.

But does the free-for-all have any limits?

Criticism is healthy. A hilarious send-up or a spot on critique furthers and enhances debate, provides room for growth and the contestation and banter of wits. Social media and blogging spaces in particular are powerful ways for minority communities to create counter communities against oppressive dominant discourses and empowering spaces for voices not traditionally heard.

You can see this with the creation of Facebook groups like A Man’s hijab, an internal send-up of gender double standards and the Lakemba mannequin man, lampooning a bizarre article in the Daily Telegraphtrading on tired stereotypes of the Muslim community and Lakemba, in Sydney’s south-west.

But it’s when commentary get vicious, repetitive and personal, with smear attacks masquerading as “critiques” veering on harassment that it seems to go beyond making a point once. The freedom of speech to make a critique should not assume the critique needs to be accepted or responded to and its aim shouldn’t be the trashing and destruction of the person who is the subject of the critique.

This seems to be attack on the right of free speech itself. Those privileged in this give and take don’t seem to be the minority voices, but the loudest bullies.

If going cold turkey online doesn’t appeal, perhaps the most apt advice comes from the unlikely Taylor Swift and her latest hit, “Haters gonna hate. You just gotta shake it off”.

If that fails, consider taking the disturbances as a perverse compliment, in the style of Oscar Wilde who embraced controversy with the droll riposte: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

This article was originally published on ABC’s The Drum (http://www.abc.net.au/thedrum). Read the original article here (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-08-27/malik-its-all-fun-and-games-until-twitter-turns-nasty/5699666).

When tragedy strikes, even onlookers can suffer

Here is my latest in ABC’s The Drum “When tragedy strikes, even onlookers can suffer”. The impact of news overload on people’s stress levels was a big talking point, particularly on social media. So many people have messaged me to say the piece has touched on what they too had been thinking about or experiencing.

The piece reflects on my experience as a social media user and as a journalist covering tragic events. I talk more about the inspiration for the piece in this BBC world interview , check me out around the 12 minute mark.

After a week dominated by tragedy and death – and a 24-hour news and social media cycle broadcasting it to us – what impact could this have on our mental health? 

“I have no philosophy, nor piety, no art of reflection, no theory of compensation, to meet things so hideous, so cruel and so mad, they are just … horrible and irremediable to me and I stare at them with angry and almost blighted eyes.” – Henry James

Social media has been a great way to raise awareness and keep journalists accountable...but graphic pictures posted by some has disturbed some users. Picture: Flickr/Johann Larson.

Social media has been a great way to raise awareness and keep journalists accountable…but graphic pictures posted by some has disturbed some users. Picture: Flickr/Johann Larson.

It has been a crazy news week. The second Malaysian Airlines plane crash in five months – the first saw a plane just vanish off the face of the planet and the latter with 36 Aussies among 298 dead after MH17 was shot out of the sky – has seen two unprecedented once-in-a decade news events back-to-back.

You can add to that the alarming death toll in Gaza that has left hundreds dead, a third of them women and children.

The pictures of mangled bodies among plane wreckage and dead children in hospitals dancing on our screens has left many feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed.

The impact of these tragedies on innocent civilians has honed home the transience of life and stirred anger towards those refusing to take responsibility for the carnage.

What has compounded these crises, besides being in close proximity to each other, is our unprecedented 24-hour news and social media cycle.

There are many positives to our new media environment.

It means immediate and constant coverage and a stream of stories that keep us aware of what is happening in the world. It means new voices outside traditional media can make themselves heard.

Journalists and news organisations are now made more accountable as an increasingly savvy audience will call them up on blunders in brutally efficient social media campaigns. The most recent saw NBC journalist Ayman Mohyeldin swiftly reinstated after being withdrawn from Gaza.

But is there a downside to the 24-hour news and social media cycle?

It seems we are caught in a catch-22 situation; the greater appetite for coverage feeds the constant stream of output by media organisations struggling to milk the story of every angle.

But is the constant barrage of information and sometimes graphic content spilling over our screens and personal social media networks having an impact on mental health?

Studies show those exposed to more than six hours of daily coverage of a traumatic news event can suffer more stress than those directly affected.

Melbourne psychologist Monique Toohey says in seeing graphic images an unwanted and intrusive replaying can occur, particularly as people try to unwind and go to sleep.

What you see cannot be unseen. I use this statement with my clients who find themselves replaying horrific images and videos and stories in their mind, hours and days after they were exposed to them in their Facebook or Twitter feeds.

I’ve never seen so many sad people this week. Even hardened journalists looked at me with bleary eyes reporting news fatigue.

Whether it was on your phone, email, Facebook, Twitter, at work or in a social setting, the news was streaming in, often unbidden from all directions.

Most media outlets filter pictures, prefaced with warnings, carefully balancing the news imperatives of showing the gritty reality but also being respectful of the dead.

Some media outlets, including NY Times and the Sydney Morning Herald, featured graphic coverage that was much applauded. I think written accounts occupy a different sphere. It gives you the full impact of the scene without the physicality.

In this coverage it was the small details that gave poignancy and humanised the tragedy, in a way gory blood images could not. Also when a reader clicks on a written story, they have the option of continuing to read or not.

Images, however, cannot be erased. Twitter and most social media outlets expose users in their social spaces, who are not seeking that content. In the case of family members who have not been notified, the results of exposure can be especially tragic. While Facebook and Twitter guidelines implore users to act responsibly, it is largely a self-regulated sphere.

Many of my friends felt disturbed by the graphic pictures of dead Palestinian children in news feeds used as a kind of moral pornography in propaganda fashion – designed to shock and often featuring dated or wrong images that undermined their cause and disrespected the victims. These pictures accompanied by self-righteous ballasts, ironically made from the comfort of a first world living room just fed the often draining debates that have left people feeling more angry and dejected.

I don’t undermine the power of social media to provide solidarity, support and powerful emotional sustenance to those outside the tragedies to vent their anger, frustration and powerlessness and also organise to rally. But I know many people have become paralysed and switched off by the overkill.

Ms Toohey advises those who fear this exposure to protect their online spaces, moderate their activity and post responsibly.

Personal censorship is required and each individual should tune in to their emotions and know when to turn the TV off, scroll quickly past photos before they load and, rather, engage in helpful coping strategies.

By switching off occasionally and having time to reflect it can empower people to help in practical ways.

In covering major news events, what I was always reminded of but could rarely report was people’s grace and courage under the most unspeakable circumstances. Whether it was a murder victims’ family using the death to become activists against drink driving or a community rebuilding after being shattered by bushfire.

The capacity of humans to endure, hope and dream despite it all is what should give us hope. The stories of survival and resilience should inspire us to support those who have the courage to bear what we find difficult to even witness.