UN group backs calls for release of Irish resident held in Iraq

Robert Pether and his Egyptian national colleague were ‘forcibly disappeared’, oversight body says

A United Nations body had said the continuing detention in Iraq of Roscommon resident Robert Pether, who is an Australian citizen, and his Egyptian national colleague, Khalid Radwan, is arbitrary and has demanded their immediate release.

It has accused Iraq of abusing and coercing the two men while in custody, during which time it says that they were “forcibly disappeared”.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has investigated the case of the two and has now published a formal opinion, as well as referring the case to the UN special rapporteur on torture.

The working group found that in depriving both men’s liberty, the authorities in Iraq, where they were employed building a new headquarters for the country’s central bank, to be arbitrary and in contravention of international law.

The working group says both men should be freed immediately and paid appropriate compensation.

Commenting on Monday from the family home in Elphin, Co Roscommon, Mr Pether’s wife, Desree Pether, who is an Irish citizen, urged the Iraqi authorities to act swiftly.

“The UN working group has called for the immediate unconditional release of my husband Australian Robert Pether and his Egyptian colleague Khaled Radwan. This is a total vindication of Robert and Khaled’s position from the outset. We just want Iraq to now do the right thing,” she said.

Peter Griffin, a UK-based Irish lawyer involved with others in enlisting UN support for the Pethers and Mr Radwan, described the legal opinion as “very powerful”.

“The UN have found in no uncertain terms that Robert and Khaled’s arrest was unlawful and arbitrary,” said Mr Griffin.

“The breadth of the decision is very significant, finding multiple breaches of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Not only Robert and Khaled but also their families have suffered immensely as a result.

“We hope now that the Iraqi authorities will immediately comply with the opinion, which calls for Robert and Khaled’s immediate and unconditional release. We have already reached out to the Iraqis and are awaiting their response.”

Mr Pether and Mr Radwan were arrested on April 7th 2021 on the premises of the Central Bank of Iraq in Baghdad. A complaint was filed with the Working group on June 25th 2021.

In its opinion, the working group observed that both men “were lured into returning to Iraq on the pretext of assisting in an investigation and have been arbitrary detained, without any legal basis”.

The working group also found that they were forcibly disappeared during the first days of their detention and that, during the subsequent judicial proceedings, their capacity to defend themselves was “undermined and compromised”.

The group found credible allegations that they were subject to “abusive and coercive interrogations” and that the evidence used at trial was “improperly obtained”.

It also expressed concern that Mr Pether and Mr Radwan were made to sign statements “without the assistance of legal counsel”. The group noted that the charges both men were facing were dropped and replaced at the last minute and found that the “trial was replete with grave due process violations”.

In its opinion, the group urged the Iraqi government to release Mr Pether and Mr Radwan, investigate the conditions that led to their arbitrary detention and accord them an enforceable right to compensation.

The group also referred the case to the special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.