Australia Today with Steve Price – Ukraine, Robert Pether Imprisonment



Subjects: Ukraine, Incarceration of Australians overseas

STEVE PRICE, HOST: Peter Khalil is the Labor MP for Wills, he’s back in Parliament Tuesday next week. Are you looking forward to that?


PRICE: Very serious issue: Australia has been asked to help record what’s gone on in Ukraine. Obviously, there’s going to be war crimes out of the invasion by the Russians. How important is that that Australia’s been asked to get involved?

KHALIL: Well, that is important because its about making sure that we do what’s necessary regarding the international rule of law and play our part in holding those to account, who’ve committed these atrocities. The Ukrainian Prosecutor-General has noted evidence that Russia has committed more than 22,000 crimes and crimes of aggression against Ukraine since the invasion. That’s a massive number of crimes and if you look at the stats, they’re pretty horrific. 10,000 civilians have been killed since the invasion, 9000 missing person reports. The Australian who heads the United Nations Human Rights Mission in Ukraine, Matilda Bogner, also says her agency’s investigators have also documented 270 cases of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance committed by Russian forces. And to be fair, because it is war, 12 cases of Ukrainian forces as well. All of that’s going to be investigated, and obviously horrifically there’s been cases and verified allegations of unlawful killing, but also sexual violence, rape, gang rape by the soldiers and torture. All of this needs to be investigated and those who are found to be guilty brought to justice.

PRICE: Very important that we get involved, no doubt about that. You’re also concerned, I understand, about a bloke who’s been in jail, Robert Pether. Now, he’s actually in jail in Baghdad, what’s the background to his story?

KHALIL: Yeah, Steve, there are a number of Australians who are being arbitrarily detained overseas, Cheng Li and Dr. Yang in China, Sean Turnell in Myanmar, but also Robert Pether. He’s an Australian engineer, worked for a company that did some work for the Iraqi central bank, building their new building. And he went back to Iraq to resolve a civil dispute, a contractual dispute. 15 months later, he’s still in jail. He’s been thrown in jail, with his engineer partner, effectively for ransom by the Iraqi central bank because they were in a civil dispute with the company that Robert works for. He’s been in jail for 15 months. It’s a case of arbitrary detention, and we’ve been working assiduously on his case. Unfortunately, his cancer, his melanomas have returned, he’s not receiving treatment, or medical attention, or even the adequate medical attention of that. He’s kind of at the edge of that. He’s one of those Australian that we need to do more for to get him out. Our new Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, has had a conversation with his counterpart, the Iraqi PM. But again, we’re calling on the Iraqi government, the Iraqi PM, to use his powers of clemency, to pardon Robert and allow him to be released. He’s already done 15 months in an Iraqi prison, and his health has deteriorated to such an extent that I don’t know how much longer he’s got. I’ve been talking to his wife, they’ve got three kids and as you can imagine, there are distraught and at their wits end.

PRICE: Hopeful, are you, that diplomacy might work?

KHALIL: Look, quiet diplomacy sometimes works very effectively. Much better than loud speaking. I’m paraphrasing our PM who said sometimes you’ve got to use quiet diplomacy. So, we’ve been doing a lot of work behind the scenes on this. These cases are complicated, as you know, they’re difficult, they involve international relations with those countries, so we’re doing everything we can, but yes hopeful yes.

PRICE: Appreciate your time as usual Peter. We will talk again soon. Good luck in Canberra next week.

KHALIL: Thanks Steve.