The Guardian 23 May, 2007

David Hicks back in Australia

David Hicks has arrived back in Adelaide, and will be held in Yatala Prison until shortly after the federal election later this year. While his long-overdue return is welcome, it shouldn’t mask the fact that his experience demonstrated the fragility of our fundamental legal and human rights. His homecoming has brought with it some bigger home truths about our government’s priorities, and they must now face some tough questions about their handling of his case.

After languishing in detention in Guantánamo Bay for more than five years without trial and pleading guilty to one element of the single charge remaining against him, David Hicks struck a deal that will see him locked up in an Australian prison until just after this year’s federal election. David will serve nine months of his seven-year sentence in Adelaide’s Yatala Prison. The deal also gags him from talking about his experience — experts question the legality of such an order.

"Because the evidence against David Hicks will never really be tested in a proper court, we will never feel certain whether five years plus of punishment was given to an innocent or guilty man. Unlike other governments, ours has failed to stand up for its citizens’ basic human and legal rights, and that matters more than what kind of man David Hicks is or isn’t", said the campaign group Get Up.

"That’s why your petition has been delivered to the Prime Minister’s office, along with 10,143 messages from voters in his very own electorate, in support of our call for justice."

The campaign to bring David Hicks home has included demonstrations, lobbying of PMs, billboards, full-page advertisements in major newspapers, candlelight vigils, letters to the editor, and culminated with a visit to Australia by David’s US military lawyer, Major Mori. At this point the government was feeling the heat within its own parliamentary ranks, from the state Attorney General, church and other groups, the legal profession and the general public, including in Liberal Party-held seats.

The government hopes now to keep David Hicks out of sight and out of mind with the Australian public until after the federal election and to gag him to prevent the horrors being committed by its ally the USA and its own wilful neglect of one of its citizens.

"Now, while the Prime Minister may have forfeited his duty to defend Australian rights, we still believe in the bedrock values of our democracy: including the right to a fair trial, freedom of speech and the prohibition against torture. And we will not let our government forget."

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