AMCRAN wrote to the Minister of Justsice in New South Wales with respect to the new "AA" classification for people in NSW prisons. What is most troubling about the new classification is that it automatically applies to terrorism suspects -- even before they are convicted.
The Hon. John HATZISTERGOS, MLC
GPO Box 5341
Sydney NSW 2001
2 November 2004
Dear Mr Hatzistergos,
Re: Introduction of new classification for prison inmates
The Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network (AMCRAN) is dedicated to preventing the erosion of the civil rights of all Australians, and, by drawing on the rich civil rights heritage of the Islamic faith, provides a Muslim perspective in the civil rights arena. It does this through political lobbying, contributions to legislative reform through submissions to government bodies, grassroots community education, and communication with and through the media. It actively collaborates with both Muslim and non-Muslim organisations to achieve its goals.
We are gravely concerned about the introduction of new classifications relating to terrorist inmates (as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, 30 October 2004).
Our primary concern is that these new provisions and classifications would apply not only to people convicted of terrorist crimes, but also to those inmates who have not yet been convicted of such crimes and have merely been charged.
The main problem with this classification system is that people who may well turn out to be innocent may be subjected to conditions under the new “AA” classification that may turn out to be deeply scarring psychologically, while limiting their access to legal advice. Specifically, the new classification would likely lead to prisoners being held in remote gaols (such as the Goulburn HRMU), in solitary confinement, unable to see their families and/or friends, and creating immense difficulties for legal counsel to meet with them.
By treating people on remand in this manner, the assumption is already being made that they are guilty of the offences that they are charged with. The presumption of innocence in a Western demoncracy is one of the things that supposedly differentiates us from the terrorists we are fighting. It is one of the bastions of our legal system and should never be taken lightly.
A secondary concern is that we believe that this simplistic classification of all terrorists as “AA” inmates oversimplifies complex and varied crimes. For example, many of the offences are for recklessly assisting terrorists, and the people who may have committed such crimes convicted for making mistakes of judgement, and not necessarily representing any threat to society. The existing legislation recognises this by providing for lesser sentences; however, the new “AA” classification is another form of increased punishment that effectively cuts them off from any stable social contact (such as family and friends) they might have.
While we, like the vast majority of Muslims, condemn terrorism in all its forms, we are also committed to ensuring that innocent people maintain their civil liberties and people who may be innocent are afforded the same rights regardless of the crime they are accused of.
We therefore request that you consider limiting these provisions and classifications to people convicted of terrorism offences, and exclude those who are on remand unless and until the courts determine their guilt beyond reasonable doubt. This will strike an appropriate balance between the government’s desire to prevent terrorist acts and maintaining the presumption of innocence and people’s civil liberties.
Should you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to meet with you in person to discuss these issues.
Dr Waleed Kadous