The Melbourne man dubbed ”Prisoner X” received no consular assistance from Australian officials despite the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade having been told of his detention by Israeli authorities nearly 10 months before he killed himself in jail.
And Australia’s forgiving response to Israel’s failure to formally advise that it had jailed dual-citizen Ben Zygier could imperil other dual citizens arrested in other countries, a top international law expert says.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr revealed on Thursday that ASIO informed the department in February 2010 that Israeli authorities were holding Mr Zygier because of ”serious offences under Israeli national security legislation”.
He told a Senate estimates hearing the government had ”relied on” assurances by Israel that Mr Zygier was being well treated, that his family knew of his detention and that he was getting legal representation.
Asked by Greens senator Christine Milne why no embassy official had gone to visit Mr Zygier in jail, department secretary Peter Varghese said communications had been between intelligence agencies, not the respective governments.
Mr Varghese said because Mr Zygier was a dual national, he was ”not under the relevant conventions” and there was ”no obligation on the Israeli government to commit to prison visits”.
But Australian National University international law professor Don Rothwell said Israel had broken the international convention on consular relations – and Mr Varghese’s response could imperil other dual citizens.
”If Mr Varghese is making that concession, it’s a very significant concession with respect to every other country where Australia has dealings with dual nationals at the moment, and, in particular, China,” he said.
Senator Milne asked: ”My question is just why did the Australian government hand over the welfare of one of our citizens to the spooks? Why?”
David Hicks’ former lawyer, Dan Mori, now with the Australian firm Shine Lawyers, said Australia had failed in its basic duty to look out for one of its citizens.
”It boggles my mind that they sit back and not say, ‘He’s one of our citizens and we’re not going to have a consular visit?’ ” he said. ”You would want them to at least put eyes on them. It’s that basic service.”
In several developments on the case, senators grilled the minister and secretary over what the government knew and when.
Senator Carr’s office admitted the Minister’s incorrect statements to the ABC and Fairfax Media that his department knew nothing of the case until after Mr Zygier had died in December 2010 had been based on written advice from DFAT.
The ABC’s Foreign Correspondent sent Senator Carr’s office written questions before his interview for the program, which had been forwarded on to the department. Yet the department replied with incorrect answers.Source: Sydney Morning Herald – “‘We failed our duty’ to Prisoner X”
- DFAT unsure if Smith knew about Zygier (bigpondnews.com)
- ‘We failed our duty’ to Prisoner X (theage.com.au)
- Australian PM Julia Gillard accuses own MPs of undermining her government (craighill.net)