Heartbreaking letter from Australian man locked up in Iraq

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An Australian man detained in Iraq has penned a letter begging the world not to forget about him.

After three years of imprisonment in Baghdad, Robert Pether released the letter in a desperate bid to finally end his ordeal.

In it, the father of three from Sydney’s north shore details how he feels “abandoned” by the Australian government and is concerned he’ll never be released.

Mr Pether, along with Egyptian colleague Khalid Zaghloul, were allegedly arrested on the premises of the Central Bank of Iraq after 12 Iraqi police officers “barged in” during a meeting with the Governor of the Central Bank.

In August the pair were found guilty in an Iraq court of deception charges and were fined $16 million and slapped with a five-year jail sentence.

Mr Pether has maintained his innocence, and there are growing concerns for the engineer’s physical and mental wellbeing the longer he remains imprisoned.

In his letter, he claims he was coerced to signing a confession in Arabic.

“I was forced to sign a pre-written, incriminating confession in Arabic, a language I don’t read or understand, after being locked in a cupboard, dehydrated and starved. There was no opportunity to defend myself,” Mr Pether said in his letter.

He said his attempts to get help from the Australian Government have been futile, and he’s worried he cannot survive much longer.

“I have pleaded for three years for Prime Minister Albanese and Foreign Minister Wong to do everything they can to help me and get me home. So far, I just feel abandoned.

“I am sick, and worried I will not survive this ordeal much longer.”

He said what he misses most during his time in jail is his family.

“I am a husband and a father of four and I miss my family so much. My wife Desree and our kids Dylan, Flynn, Oscar and Nala. I’ve missed so many milestones.

“Our oldest son’s 30th, our other son’s 18th and soon 21st and our youngest son’s 16th and 18th. Our youngest two boys have finished school and are now young men. Our daughter was eight when I was arrested and is now 11.

“I’ve missed three Christmases and four Easters, multiple birthdays, three wedding anniversaries, and so much more.”

He also pointed to the simpler things in life that we often take for granted, including being outdoors, and other activities he hasn’t been able to enjoy for years.

“I want to go home,” he said. “I want to go back to Australia and hear the birds, swim at the beach, sit and watch the harbour while the ferries come and go and feel the sun on my skin.”

Now, Mr Pether is calling on Australians to help.

“I am asking all Australians to please write to Prime Minister Albanese and Foreign Minister Wong and ask them to do more. To do everything they possibly can to get me home to my family.”

Mr Pether’s wife Desree earlier spoke about how she believes her husband and his colleague are being held as “pawns in a game of chess” between Iraq and their Dubai-based building company.

“He’s still really scared and feels really betrayed by what’s happened,” she told Sky News the year after his imprisonment.

“He just can’t believe he’s in there, he can’t believe it’s happened. He’s completely innocent. He’s an employee, and he can’t understand how a dispute between his employer and the client has ended up in he and his colleague being detained.”

A report from the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 2022 backed the family’s claims, saying the men were “lured” into returning to Iraq on the pretext of assisting in an investigation.

The report also provided clues to his shocking treatment.

“According to the information received, from approximately 7 to 19 April, Mr. Pether was held in solitary confinement at the D6 detention facility.

“He was put in a 2m2 cell with only a carpet to sleep on and the lights constantly on. “Reportedly, Mr. Pether refuses to speak about the treatment he endured while at D6, with the source suggesting that he was subjected to acts of torture and ill-treatment. It is suspected that he was shown torture rooms, blindfolded, insulted and screamed at.

“Reportedly, Mr. Pether had almost no access to water and suffered very severe dehydration. “He was almost never allowed outside, only for two hours during the first 12 days of his detention.

“He was forced to remain in the suit he wore at the time of his arrest for 12 days. It is reported that Mr. Pether lost 15kg during the first 12 days of his detention.”

Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s office said the Australian government has consistently advocated for Mr Pether.

“Three years on from Mr Pether’s detention, our thoughts are with him and his loved ones, including his children. Through his family’s words and their advocacy, it is clear Mr Pether is deeply loved and greatly missed,” a spokesperson told the ABC.

“The Australian government is unable to intervene in another country’s legal or court processes, but we continue to convey our expectations that Mr Pether is entitled to due process, humane and fair treatment, and access to his legal team.

“The Australian government has provided extensive consular assistance to Mr Pether and his family since he was detained.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told SBS he is making every effort to ensure Mr Pether makes a safe return.

“We had made enormous efforts including direct contact by myself as Prime Minister – with leaders there, with continued representation, more than 100 by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“My government will always act in the interest of Australian citizens, and with Mr Pether we are certainly doing whatever we can to secure his safe return.”

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