ASIO · asylum · Sayed Abdellatif

Human rights groups press government to end detention- as featured in the Guardian

Falsely condemned as a terrorist by political leaders, Abdellatif, his wife and six children have been held in detention for more than three years without charge.
Falsely condemned as a terrorist by political leaders, Abdellatif, his wife and six children have been held in detention for more than three years without charge.

Human rights groups have condemned the continued incarceration of Egyptian asylum seeker Sayed Abdellatif after a Guardian Australia investigation revealed the United Nations had formally told the Australian government he should be immediately released.

Falsely condemned as a terrorist by political leaders, Abdellatif, his wife and six children have been held in detention for more than three years without charge.

In the first of a three-part series, the Guardian on Monday revealed the UN Human Rights Council in June ruled Abdellatif’s detention breached international law, was indefinite and arbitrary, and directed Australia to release him and compensate him for his wrongful detention.

The series also revealed the struggles of Abdellatif’s two eldest daughters, the first students to graduate from high school while incarcerated at Sydney’s Villawood detention centre, as well as detailing the torture inflicted on Abdellatif by Egypt’s State Security Investigation Service (SSI) under former dictator Hosni Mubarak, which forced him to flee his homeland in 1992.

Amnesty refugee campaigns spokesman Graeme McGregor said government intransigence around Abdellatif’s case was a result of the negative publicity the story had generated.

“It’s outrageous that these children are being denied the opportunity to have a normal adolescence with their father,” he said. “It’s hard not to believe the only reason Mr Abdellatif is trapped in detention is because of the political embarrassment that surrounds the case.

“We often lose sight of the fact a family that came to Australia to build their life have been denied that opportunity.”

The vice-president of the Muslim Legal Network, Rabea Khan, also criticised the family’s continued detention despite an assessment from the inspector-general of intelligence and security that made clear Abdellatif poses no threat to Australia’s national security. The inspector-general also criticised the government’s handling of Abdellatif’s case.

“It’s disturbing that the Australian government continues to sit on its hands instead of going ahead and releasing this man from detention,” Khan said.

“This is yet another example of the government playing political football with the plight of refugees.”

In 1999, seven years after he left Egypt, Abdellatif was convicted in absentia in a mass show trial of 107 men in Cairo. The trial was condemned as unfair byAmnesty and Human Rights Watch. It has also since been discredited in his home country as a politically motivated suppression of Islamic political opposition.

A 2013 Guardian Australia investigation into the trial uncovered further serious irregularities, resulting in Interpol dropping all convictions for violence in a red notice against him.

The Abdellatif family has been found by Australia to have a prima facie claim to refugee status. Australia is obliged under international law to offer them protection.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said Australian authorities had used the red notice as an excuse for not processing Abdellatif.

“All the evidence points that the red notice was placed there wrongly by the Egyptian government as a politically motivated [tool] to victimise Sayed,” Rintoul said.

“The degree the government has caused Sayed and his family to suffer cannot be overstated,” he said.

“They have been forced to deal with humiliation inside detention and the girls at school – and for no reason other than the government would not face up to the fact that they made a terrible mistake in keeping them in detention in the first place.”

Human Rights Law Centre legal advocacy director Daniel Webb said Australia’s detention regime made detaining people a first resort, and vested extraordinary powers over people’s lives in the position of immigration minister.

“Giving relatively unchecked powers over peoples’ basic rights to one politician is a recipe for injustice,” he said.

“The result is a nightmare for the people – like Sayed’s family – who get caught up in the system, locked up with no appeal rights, not knowing if or when they’ll ever be released.”

The government has maintained a resolute silence on Abdellatif’s case, despite being offered several opportunities to comment.

Guardian Australia has repeatedly approached the government for a response.

For the latest series, Guardian Australia first provided written questions to the immigration department on 22 October. After initially agreeing to provide answers by 30 October, a department spokesman has since refused to answer any questions and directed all queries to the office of the minister, Peter Dutton.

Dutton’s office has not responded to any inquiries.


ASIO · asylum · asylum seekers · injustice · investigation · journalism · media · politics · Sayed Abdellatif

UN called for asylum seeker Sayed Abdellatif’s release – as featured in the Guardian

Front page of the Guardian Australia website.
Front page of the Guardian Australia website.

Exclusive: ‘Arbitrary’ detention of Egyptian asylum seeker, his wife and six children is ‘clearly disproportionate’, UN human rights council tells Australia.

By Ben Doherty and Sarah Malik
Sayed Abdellatif, an Egyptian asylum seeker falsely condemned as a terrorist by political leaders, should be immediately released from his “arbitrary” and “disproportionate” detention, which breaches international law, the UN has told Australia.

Abdellatif, his wife and six children have been held in detention for more than three years without charge.

In a seven-page formal communication sent in June and obtained by Guardian Australia, the UN’s human rights council – which Australia is seeking to join in two years – directed Australia to immediately release Abdellatif and his family. .

“Under international law Australia has a duty to release Mr Abdellatif, his wife and and their six children and accord them an enforceable right to compensation,” the council said.

But Abdellatif and his close-knit family – his wife and children daily endure the trial of wristbands, metal detectors and reinforced doors to see their husband and father in the high-security wing of Villawood detention centre – have said compensation is far from their minds.

“Freedom,” Abdellatif told Guardian Australia quietly amid the chaos of the detention centre visitors area. “We are only thinking about our freedom. We are not thinking about compensation.”

Abdellatif’s detention has exposed consistent and wilful failings within several government agencies. Asio, the Australian federal police and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection have collectively displayed “a lack of coordination, a duplication of effort and a lack of urgency”, in handling the family’s case, Australia’s statutory inspector general of intelligence and security, Vivienne Thom, found.

Abdellatif fled Egypt in 1992, having been tortured under the regime of Hosni Mubarak. He was arrested from a mosque by the state security investigations service as part of a crackdown on Islamic political opposition to Mubarak’s rule.

He has remained in exile from his country since, living as a refugee in Albania, the UK, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Indonesia and – finally – Australia.

All his children were born during that exile. His youngest, a five-year-old boy, has never lived a day free, only knowing life in detention in Indonesia and Australia.

Abdellatif and his family arrived in Australia in May 2012. Australia assessed his claim for protection and found that he and his family had legitimate claims to refugee status.

But while the family were in immigration detention in 2013 Australian authorities were alerted to an Interpol red notice that said that in 1999 Abdellatif was convicted – in a mass show trial in Cairo of 107 men – of premeditated murder, destruction of property, and possession of firearms and explosives. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The trial, criticised by rights groups at the time, was later found to have been fraudulent. Evidence against Abdellatif was obtained by “severe torture”, including electric shocks.

But the case became the centre of a political firestorm when the red notice became known publicly. The opposition leader, later prime minister, Tony Abbott labelled Abdellatif a “convicted jihadist” and a “pool-fence terrorist”, in reference to the low-security fencing at the Inverbrackie detention centre in South Australia. George Brandis, now the attorney general but then shadowing that position, said he was “plainly a convicted terrorist”.

The Abdellatifs were moved to the higher security Villawood detention centre in Sydney, where they have remained.

In a two-year investigation, the Guardian has shown:

Allegations of murder, firearms offences and property destruction were never made against Abdellatif at his Cairo trial and were wrongly attached to the Interpol red notice. After the Guardian’s investigation, which included examining the Egyptian court records and transcripts, Interpol took the extraordinary step of withdrawing those charges from the red notice.

The remaining convictions against Abdellatif, for “membership of a terrorist group” and “providing forged travel documents”, relied on evidence obtained under “severe torture”. Abdellatif was convicted in absentia, without any chance of defending himself against the allegations. He has denied both charges in a letter to the Guardian.

The Australian federal police were provided with evidence, in Arabic, that Abdellatif’s convictions for violent crimes were false, and had been withdrawn by Interpol, but took six months to translate the document – then failed to tell Asio or the immigration department of this new information.

A report by Australia’s inspector general of intelligence and security said Abdellatif had not been convicted of any terrorism-related charges and made clear he was not a threat to national security.

Scott Morrison, when immigration minister, defied the advice of officials from his own department, who had recommended Abdellatif be allowed to apply for a visa, and refused to allow Abdellatif to make an application.
In June this year, the UN human rights council’s working group on arbitrary detention wrote to the Australian government: “The detention is clearly disproportionate … the deprivation of liberty of Mr Abdellatif, his wife and their six children is arbitrary,” it said.

“Under international law Australia has a duty to release Mr Abdellatif, his wife and and their six children and accord them an enforceable right to compensation.”

Guardian Australia has made repeated attempts to seek information about Abdellatif’s case from the immigration department. After promising to provide answers to a series of questions, it declined to comment.

Abdellatif’s wife and family have previously been offered community detention but the family have consistently said they do not want to be separated from their husband and father.

Nearly six months after the UN direction, and after more than three and a half years in detention, the Abdellatifs remain incarcerated – Sayed Abdellatif in the high-security wing of Villawood detention centre, his wife and children in the family compound.

This year the department wrote to the family informing them that the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, had “lifted the bar” on their application for a protection visa. The family submitted a visa application in July, which has been acknowledged by the department as a “valid application”. But there has been no communication since.

Abdellatif says he feels that his life and those of his children are being slowly destroyed by their continuing detention and separation. “It’s been six months since the Australian government received [the UN] report but they did nothing, they ignored it completely,” he said.

“No one in the department is [taking] responsibility for our detention. We’re losing our lives by the immigration department of Australian government and no one cares. Who will take responsibility for this wasting of our lives?”

Abdellatif said he was constantly frustrated in his efforts to communicate with the department. He believed it was embarrassed by its handling of his case.

Analysis Sayed Abdellatif: asylum seeker trapped in detention by callous disregard
This man and his family remain locked in Australia’s detention system, despite recommendation from immigration department to grant visa

“They keep us in detention because we are found to be innocent,” he said. “They don’t want to say, ‘We were wrong’. They think, ‘We should keep them in detention to avoid embarrassment.’”

His children were suffering and the government was not interested in redressing its past mistakes, he said. “They think, ‘You can prove your innocence, but we are going to destroy you, every one of you.’”

The human rights council is one of the UN’s most powerful bodies, mandated with “the protection and promotion of all human rights around the globe”.

The foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, told Guardian Australia in September the government was “strongly committed” to a bid for a seat on the council for 2018-20.

Australia will compete against Spain and France for two seats from its poli-geographic group in 2017.

investigation · news

Morrison’s last stand- as featured in the Guardian

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


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


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.