Faheem Lodhi - another non-terrorist jailed under Australia's 'anti-terror' laws?
16 Aug 2006 03:39 GMT
Jack Thomas, a non-terrorist, has been jailed under Australia's anti-terror laws. Now, Faheem Lodhi, has been convicted under the anti-terror laws but the evidence is flimsy and circumstantial. It seems likely that he is to be another example of the misuse of Australia's anti-terror laws for political purposes against individuals who are not a threat to Australia.
Faheem Lodhi - another non-terrorist jailed under Australia’s ‘anti-terror’ laws?
In Australia a non-terrorist is jailed under anti-terror laws. Jack Thomas was pursued by Australia’s secret intelligence agency ASIO and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for 3 years. Federal Police alleged that he was a ‘sleeper agent’ for terrorists. At his trial he was cleared of all allegations that he was a terrorist yet was still convicted and jailed under the anti-terror laws of 2002. He was convicted for receiving money from a terrorist even though the jury and judge accepted that he had no intention of using the money for terrorist purposes. Jack’s jailing does not fulfill the stated purpose of the anti-terror legislation – to protect Australia from terrorism. Instead it shows that the anti-terror laws can be misused to jail non-terrorists for political purposes. In the process the security agencies had not protected Australia but wasted their time, resources and our money pursuing a non-terrorist.
The arrest and deportation of American peace activist Scott Parkin has been the most recent dramatic illustration that ASIO acts in a partisan political manner and can falsely accuse individuals of being a threat to national security for political purposes. In the future security agencies could use the anti-terror laws to suppress dissent.
Now, Sydney architect Faheem Khalid Lodhi, convicted on June 19 of preparing for a terrorist act, faces sentencing in Sydney on August 23. He was arrested in January 2004, charged under the new “anti-terror” laws and has been locked up in solitary confinement at Goulburn super-max prison ever since. He faces possible life imprisonment.
Lodhi’s conviction has been loudly trumpeted by politicians, security agencies and the corporate media as a vindication of the new terror laws. But it is far from certain that Lodhi had any terrorist intentions, or that he is a threat to Australia.
Lodhi first came to the attention of the security agencies when Willy Brigitte came to Australia and was later deported back to France in 2003. Lodhi had arranged accommodation for Brigitte and, due to this association, was intensively investigated by the security agencies. At Lodhi’s trial this year the prosecution highlighted Lodhi’s association with Brigitte but it has not been proven that Brigitte was a security threat to Australia.
The media alleged that Brigitte was a dangerous terrorist who had been planning to commit a terrorist act in Australia. These allegations all came from one source - France’s most powerful “anti-terrorist” judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, who has been criticised by civil libertarians for using intimidation to extract information and confessions. Bruguiere had Brigitte arrested when he was deported to France in 2003, and he has been held without trial ever since. Can we really trust allegations coming from this source?
Bruguiere alleged that Brigitte trained at a Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) camp and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) have adopted Bruguiere’s theory that a LET group in Sydney, including Lodhi, was preparing a terrorist attack in Australia. But experts in terrorism have cast doubt on this. Clive Williams, a security analyst from the Australian National University, has argued that LeT “would be unlikely to be interested itself in terrorist activities in Australia” (The Australian, 5 November 2003, p 13). The reason is that LET are focused on the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.
Early in Lodhi’s trial, the prosecution alleged that Lodhi himself attended a LET camp, but the witnesses, held in US and Singaporean jails, were discredited as unreliable. Al Hamdi, the US witness, had already been described by US authorities as an unreliable witness, yet AFP officers still asked him to testify in Lodhi’s case. The AFP had previously told an Australian prisoner in Lebanon that if he would return to Australia and plead guilty to planning an attack on Sydney Harbour and recruiting other Sydney men for the purpose, he would receive a 60% reduction in his sentence. Clearly the AFP will go to great lengths to obtain convictions.
Whipped up by the Howard government’s support for the post-9/11 “war on terror”, security agencies seem predisposed to see terrorist plots, accumulate flimsy evidence and secure convictions. With an already fearful public, the threshold of “beyond reasonable doubt” becomes drastically lowered.
Apart from the association with Brigitte, there were five main pieces of evidence presented against Lodhi at his trial. All were circumstantial.
First, Lodhi was accused of downloading from the internet aerial photos of three military sites around Sydney for a terrorist attack. But at the trial, it was clear that a colleague at the architect’s firm where Lodhi worked discovered the photo site and told his colleagues. Soon everyone was downloading pictures. Lodhi downloaded the military sites because he had worked at them and wanted them for his CV. He made no attempt to hide the fact that he was downloading the pictures. The jury exonerated Lodhi of downloading the photos with any terrorist intent.
Second, Lodhi, openly in the office environment, enquired about prices of chemicals and arranged for a chemical firm to fax him their prices. The chemicals in question all had uses as detergents; some could also be used to make explosives.
Lodhi explained he planned to start a business exporting detergents to Pakistan to be used in tanneries. At the trial, family and friends confirmed he had discussed these plans with them. He never did acquire chemicals and he had no equipment for making explosives.
Third, he bought two schematic diagrams of the Australian electricity grid. Lodhi said he was investigating another business venture - exporting generators to Pakistan, a country with major deficiencies in its electricity grid. Lodhi said he wanted the maps to promote his contemplated business. The prosecution argued that Lodi wanted to bomb the grid. But, as Lodhi’s defence pointed out, the generalised diagrams would have been useless to a terrorist wanting locations for an attack.
Fourth, a “terrorist manual” was discovered in Lodhi’s office drawer. This was 15 pages, torn from an exercise book, of recipes for explosives, detonators and poisons copied from an internet site some years earlier. Lodhi said he had come across the site while studying at Sydney University, jotted down some notes and forgot about them. Lodhi’s lawyer characterised the notes, which included a recipe for invisible ink, as “unsophisticated’” and a “boys own” spy kit rather than material for potential terrorists.
Describing these notes as a “terrorist manual” is hyperbole. The internet sites in question do not contain detail that could be useful for real terrorists. Many teenage males get excited with the idea of home-made “bombs”, but they are not terrorists. Surely we need more evidence than notes jotted down from such a site to believe that Lodhi had serious intent to make bombs for terrorism. Lodhi had not acquired any of the ingredients, or equipment, to actually make any explosive devices.
Fifth, the prosecution produced a CD, DVD and video of extremist material that the police allege was found at Lodhi’s home. Lodhi has denied any knowledge of this material.
Adhering to a radical ideology is not a crime, and does not constitute evidence that a person is a terrorist. But there is also reason to doubt that Lodhi does have radical Islamic views. He was opposed to the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, but expressed equal abhorrence at the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack saying “My opinion is it was wrong. Killing innocent people is not part of Islam.” In court, Lodhi swore an oath on the Koran, and denied he planned a bomb attack or that he had associated with members of a terrorist group.
Given his expressed views against terrorism and that he denied ever seeing the material before, it is possible it was planted by the Federal Police or ASIO. The Woods Royal commission into police corruption in NSW found multiple cases in which police planted evidence and AFP officers were involved. If the AFP are highly motivated to get a conviction, and especially if they believe their suspect is guilty, they may regard it as ethical to plant evidence in order to convict an individual who they believe is dangerous. Certainly this material was used to influence the jury in a dramatic way.
There was more drama when a police explosives expert was brought in to describe in lurid detail the deadly effect of exploding urea nitrate in the courtroom. The prosecution claimed that Lodhi could have manufactured urea nitrate from the chemicals he had enquired about the prices for - but had not acquired.
But with no equipment, no plans and no evidence pointing to a particular target, it is difficult to understand how the evidence presented at Lodhi’s trial can possibly be regarded as proving beyond a reasonable doubt that he intended to carry out a terrorist act in the future.
Phillip Boulten, Lodhi’s lawyer, pointed out, Lodhi was being investigated “in a hypervigilant ... post 9/11 investigative environment” and that, acting on the theory that he was a terrorist “every little piece of information that [investigators] could find that would fit into this theory ... has been plucked out and presented in this trial.” (AAP by Kim Arlington 19 June, 2006)
Beyond reasonable doubt?
The jury was deadlocked for a week before being sent back by the judge to come to a unanimous agreement. In this kind of pressure-cooker situation jurors can be pressured to agree on a verdict, compromising justice. Juries can also get it wrong, especially when influenced by strong public opinion. Since 9/11, it is inevitable that the justice system will be influenced by the “war on terror”.
If the jury decided Lodhi had no plan to attack a military site, why did it decide he was planning to attack the electricity grid? Lodhi was convicted of preparing for a terrorist act by acquiring maps of Australia’s electricity grid, inquiring about the prices of chemicals and possessing notes copied from the internet years earlier on making poisons, invisible ink and amateur explosives. It is alarming that such weak circumstantial evidence has been regarded as evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. If this is the kind of evidence that indicates preparation for a terrorist attack, very many Australians could also be convicted as terrorists. Laws that allow conviction on the basis of what someone might do, rather than what they have done, or have even planned to do, are in themselves wrong. Such laws can potentially be used against a large section of the population, and this makes abuse of the laws easy.
It is likely that Lodhi has been wrongly convicted. Lodhi’s case must not be allowed to pass by unchallenged. It is likely that Lodhi’s conviction demonstrates, as already demonstrated in the Jack Thomas debacle, that anti-terror laws are being used to jail non-terrorists for political purposes.
[Colin Mitchell is a campaigner with Civil Rights Defence in Melbourne, Australia >. This article also is to be published in Green Left Weekly magazine www.greenleft.org.au and has been abridged from a longer article which can be found at >