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Govt under fire after Australian found guilty on terrorism charges in Kazakhstan
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 closed court.

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?

Yes.

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.

Never.

MICHAEL VINCENT: The witness making the bin Laden claim disappeared before the trials.

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 to us.

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 this time.

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 for clemency.

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 clemency application.

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.

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All information is Copyright 1997 - 2006 'Foreign Prisoner Support Service' unless stated otherwise - Click here for the legal stuff