A team of lawyers has petitioned the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention as Robert Pether and his colleague have been held without charge in "horrific" conditions in Iraq for more than 90 days.
Robert Pether, an Australian national who lives in Co Roscommon with his Irish wife Desree McCarthy and their three children, has been in custody in Iraq since early April despite not being charged with anything.
47-year-old Pether, an engineer with the Dubai-based CMC Consulting, was arrested alongside his Egyptian colleague "without explanation" in Baghdad on April 7 following a contract dispute between the men's employer and the Iraqi government.
Upon being arrested, Pether was allegedly held in solitary confinement in a "2sq m cell with the lights permanently on" and was “blindfolded, interrogated, screamed at, threatened, insulted and shown torture rooms," according to a petition from his lawyers.
He has since been moved to another detention center where he is in a 14sq ft cell with 22 other inmates.
The petition lodged by a team of six lawyers last week to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention says that Pether now has kidney and bladder infections, has lost weight, has blackouts, and is delirious.
Arbitration lawyer Pierre Pic, who is amongst the group of lawyers petitioning on behalf of Pether, said: “This is a very, very egregious case. It is just blackmail.”
The 19-page petition accuses the Iraqi authorities of arresting Pether and his Egyptian colleague “to gain leverage in a commercial dispute."
It further notes: “Not only have their rights to security been violated but their due process rights have also been severely compromised.”
At home in Ireland, Pether's wife Desree Pether and the couple's three children, who are all Irish citizens, are distraught.
According to Desree, her husband had been traveling to Iraq for work for the past decade "without incident." In fact, her husband has been vocal about his optimism for the future of Iraq, Desree said in a Facebook post on April 20.
Please share (copy and paste) far and wide and with any media contacts you have. THANK YOU ❤ Sydney Businessman Robert...Posted by Desree Pether on Tuesday, April 20, 2021
In an emotional Facebook post, Desree shared a video of her and her husband's teenage son Oscar who said: “My father has been wrongfully arrested upon attending a meeting being held with the Governor of the Central Bank of Iraq.
“As of today Thursday, June the 3rd my father has been stolen from us for 56 days. This is an immediate human rights violation, he has been putting his best work forward to help achieve a better future for Iraq.
“Over many months of hard work, countless days away from his family making sacrifices to do his best, they've punished him, locked him away, and damaged him.
“I feel so disgusted by the world that this lets me see.”
Oscar added: “This situation has made my depression worse to the point where I was forced into therapy. I'm begging for his immediate unconditional release. Please bring my father home to me and my family.”
Pether’s wife said she has been “begging” the Irish government to intervene on the matter, but a spokesperson for Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs told the Irish Times that they cannot intervene since Pether is Australian and does not yet have Irish citizenship.
“Our embassies and consulates cannot directly intervene in the internal affairs or processes of another jurisdiction, including the provision of consular assistance to citizens of that jurisdiction,” the department reportedly said.
Roscommon Senator Eugene Murphy has raised Pether's plight in the Seanad:
I again raised the case of Robert Pether in the Seanad this week. I am asking the Irish Government and @simoncoveney to assist in a bid to have Mr Pether released from Iraq. His wife Desree and their children are Irish citizens living in Elphin for the past number of years. pic.twitter.com/Moz1zQ8Uh9— Senator Eugene Murphy (@SenatorEMurphy) May 11, 2021
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that they will "do everything we possibly can to assist Robert," but noted that Australian authorities have taken the lead in the matter.
Senator Murphy later told the Irish Independent that he is "disappointed by the Department of Foreign Affairs.”
Noting that Desree and her three children are "Irish citizens," Senator Murphy said: “This family are completely at sea. It’s a nightmare for them. I’m so sad for Desree and her children. Nobody should have to endure this.”
The Irish Independent has since reported that Pether will have a hearing this week, but there are concerns it could be delayed.
“We will find out hopefully next Monday and, if granted it, his immediate, unconditional release," Desree told the Independent.
“I don’t want to get my hopes out. We are just numb to it now. The other outcome could leave him languishing for months,” she added.
“Robert and [his colleague] Khalid both had a dream they got out, so we are praying it is a sign.”