Australian Broadcasting Corporation - TV PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT
Reporter: Michael Vincent
KERRY O'BRIEN: Tonight the extraordinary story of the first Australian to
be convicted of terrorism after September 11, details of whose case are now
being revealed for the first time.
In October 2001, Noorpolat Abdulla, a 31-year-old Australian citizen, was
convicted of preparing a terrorist attack in the former Soviet Republic of
Kazakhstan, in Central Asia.
Denied consular representation, he was sentenced to 15 years in jail by a
Since his conviction, his family, which maintains the father of two is
innocent, have lobbied quietly for his release.
Now, they've gone public with their disquiet at the Australian Government's
handling of the case.
They claim the Government did not do enough to ensure an open and fair
hearing and say it's left the former Adelaide resident to rot in a prison
camp straight out of Stalin's gulag.
But the Department of Foreign Affairs maintains it has done everything
possible and is supporting an application for clemency.
This special report from Michael Vincent.
MICHAEL VINCENT: Twenty years ago, the Abdulla family came to Australia to
begin a new life.
The Australian Government accepted them as skilled migrants.
They had come from impoverished western China where their ethnic minority
has been brutally suppressed.
ZULFIYA ADBULLA, SISTER: In our heart we are so relieved to live in Australia.
MICHAEL VINCENT: Now with their son languishing in an overseas prison,
convicted behind closed doors of terrorism, the Abdulla family is appealing
for the Australian Government to secure his release.
ZULFIYA ADBULLA: Well, it's really frustrating because I keep thinking --
until now we keep thinking that our government can do something for him.
BRUCE BILLSON, PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR CONSULAR AFFAIRS: What we're
trying to do is provide the best possible assistance we can for any
Australian citizen that finds themselves in trouble with the law.
MICHAEL VINCENT: Noorpolat Abdulla became an Australian citizen in 1986 and
began studying electronic engineering at TAFE in Adelaide.
But he never lost his passion for the plight of his family's people, the
Uighurs, who are being persecuted.
RABIYA ABDULLA, WIFE: Chinese people killed many Uighur young people
without any evidence.
They executed them, they put them in prison.
Uighur people couldn't do anything.
MICHAEL VINCENT: Muslims with their own traditions and customs who claim
western China as their homeland.
They call it Eastern Turkistan.
After more than a decade in Australia, Noorpolat Abdulla returned there to
marry his childhood sweetheart, Rabiya.
RABIYA ABDULLA: He was my husband, also my best friend.
We grew up in the same neighbourhood.
When we talk, we always talk about our childhood.
MICHAEL VINCENT: They had a son and after several years in Adelaide moved
back to central Asia, not to his homeland, but neighbouring Kazakhstan
where Noorpolat Abdulla went into business as a wool trader.
In his spare time, he used his English language skills to help fellow
Uighur refugees escaping Chinese persecution.
RABIYA ABDULLA: He was just working like a translator.
MICHAEL VINCENT: He was helping people who had escaped from Xinjiang with
their documents with the United Nations, translating?
RABIYA ABDULLA: Yes, yes, that's all he did.
MICHAEL VINCENT: Kazakh authorities were under pressure from China to crack
down on Uighur activists.
After two Kazakh police were shot dead in September 2000, Noorpolat Abdulla
and about 100 other people were rounded up for questioning.
Rabiya Abdulla hasn't seen her husband since he was arrested.
Police later raided their home where they allegedly found two grenades, one
bearing Noorpolat Abdulla's thumbprint.
RABIYA ABDULLA: They search all the house and even the ceilings.
And then they searched the backyard While they were searching the backyard,
they told me they found two grenades under the dog's house.
MICHAEL VINCENT: Grenades?
Yes, they told me they act from the KGB.
MICHAEL VINCENT: KGB?
These were the secret police?
MICHAEL VINCENT: The Abdulla family maintains that the Kazakh authorities
fabricated the trial evidence.
Police even claimed they had a witness who could link Noorpolat Abdulla
with Osama bin Laden.
These were the secret police?
(laughs) No, never.
MICHAEL VINCENT: The witness making the bin Laden claim disappeared before
In fact, the judge was so unimpressed by the evidence, it was sent back to
the police for re-examination.
Noorpolat Abdulla's lawyer was so optimistic that on September 9, 2001, two
days before the attacks on the United States, he wrote to Australian officials.
EXCERPT FROM LAWYER'S LETTER: "I have to inform you that the prosecutor's
office yesterday decided to send the Although they assured us they would
refuse their accusations and grant amnesty with immediate release from custody.
MICHAEL VINCENT: But Noorpolat Abdulla was never released.
In an unexpected legal twist, he was convicted after his second trial in
October 2001 and sentenced to 15 years' jail.
Meanwhile, Noorpolat's family, some of whom visited him in prison soon
after, were shocked by his treatment.
ZUBATYRA SHAMSEDEN: They torture him.
They just looked at Australian passport and spit on it and said, "You think
you are Australian citizen and Westerner -- you come from western country
so you can do everything you want?"
MICHAEL VINCENT: He is now locked away in an isolated prison camp that was
once part of Stalin's Gulag.
Australian consular officials have reported on the appalling conditions.
EXCERPT FROM CONSULAR PRISON VISIT REPORT: There was an incident a few
months ago in which 10 prisoners in protest at the harshness of the conditions.
MICHAEL VINCENT: Noorpolat Abdulla has told Australian consular officials
who have visited him that he's been beaten, held in a cage in the cold and
made to stand still for 14 hours.
Bruce Billson, the parliamentary secretary responsible for Australians in
prisons overseas sees no grounds to intervene.
BRUCE BILLSON: In the last, most recent visit to Mr Abdulla there was no
concerns expressed about his treatment.
He seemed well, given the circumstance.
KAY DANES: It's a case of deja vu for me.
MICHAEL VINCENT: Kay Danes can empathise with Noorpolat Abdulla's plight.
Four years ago, she and her husband spent 11 months in jail in Laos.
They were convicted of gem smuggling by a closed court, a charge they
continue to strongly deny.
KAY DANES: When we were taken by secret police, they said the same things
Before you go to visit with your embassy, you're threatened, in a lot of
cases, you're brutalised.
They convince you thoroughly that they can do anything.
MICHAEL VINCENT: The Danes were only released and pardoned after intense
lobbying by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.
These days, Kay Danes runs a support group for prisoners held in foreign
jails and she has strong views about the Australian Government's position
on Noorpolat Abdulla.
KAY DANES: He's got like the trifecta.
He's been labelled a terrorist, he's a Muslim and he's non-Anglo-Saxon.
BRUCE BILLSON: There's about 200 Australian citizens in jails overseas at
We take every one of those individual's cases very seriously.
MICHAEL VINCENT: This is no solace to Noorpolat Abdulla's father, Mohamed.
MOHAMAD ABULLA, FATHER (TRANSLATION): They won't bring my son home.
The Australian Government They are not interested to find out the truth
because they didn't follow up his case.
Now we are very disappointed.
MICHAEL VINCENT: However, the Australian Government says it doesn't have a
get-out-of-jail-free card for its citizens who are in prisons overseas.
But in Noorpolat Abdulla's case, the Government supports a family appeal
BRUCE BILLSON: They've sought clemency.
We've supported that clemency application.
That's yet to be determined by the Kazakhstan authorities and we are
following it through, encouraging a favourable consideration of that
MICHAEL VINCENT: But this is news to the Abdulla family as the Government
has failed to tell them or his lawyer about his development.
Meanwhile, it's been lonely wait for Rabiya Abdulla and her family.
For her children, their father is a photo -- a memory.
RABIYA ABDULLA: These were the secret police?
I can't say to them their father is in prison because they are not old
enough to understand the political situation.
MICHAEL VINCENT: You can't bring yourself to tell them?
RABIYA ABDULLA: No, I can't.
I can't, no.
But when they're old enough, they will understand.
I'm sure they will understand.
KERRY O'BRIEN: Michael Vincent with that report.