Waving placards declaring “Free Izhar now!”, “ASIO — Australia’s System of Injustice and Oppression” and “Guilty until proven innocent!”, supporters of University of New South Wales medical student Izhar Ul Haque gathered outside the Supreme Court on May 26.
Before appearing in court, Ul Haque was held for 42 days in solitary confinement in the maximum security Supermax prison in Goulburn, under the new anti-terrorism laws. Ul Haque’s “crime” was to train with the Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic group fighting the Indian occupation of Kashmir, during a trip to Pakistan. The group was only put on the list of proscribed organisations by the federal government 10 months later.
Meredith Burgmann, president of the NSW Legislative Assembly, Greens Senator Kerry Nettle, and the Democrats’ Arthur Chesterfield-Evans addressed the protest. The speakers condemned the removal of Ul Haque’s right to be considered innocent until proven guilty; the holding of Ul Haque in solitary confinement; and the fact that the law was applied retrospectively.
Burgmann condemned the government’s “anti-terrorism” as the “sort of approach that led to the ‘anti-communist’ hysteria and persecution in the United States in the 1950s with the House of Un-American Activities”.
Nettle, who has worked as a campaigner for prisoners’ rights at the Supermax prison, opposed the use of solitary confinement, commenting that “we have seen in Iraq the sort of abuses that can occur through the type of isolation that you get in units like those used at Supermax in Goulburn”.
Chesterfield-Evans attacked Australia’s participation in the invasion of Iraq and told the rally that a bad foreign policy is a “slippery slope” that leads to injustices such as that committed against Ul Haque.
Waleed Kadous, a friend of Ul Haque’s, condemned the “anti-terrorist” legislation as an attack on civil liberties. “Today they are targeting Muslims, but anyone could be the next victim of this legislation.”
Ul Haque’s bail was set at $200,000 despite the fact that the judge acknowledged, and the prosecution itself admitted, that he poses no threat either to the community in Australia or any other country.
Green Left Weekly, June 2, 2004.