'Goulburn nine' trial scheduled for February 2008


On May 31, the nine Sydney men who were arrested in raids on their homes in November 2005, and who have been incarcerated in Goulburn maximum security prison since, finally faced a hearing in the Supreme Court. The nine men pleaded not guilty to the charge of conspiring to organise a terrorist act under the Howard government's so-called anti-terror laws.

Under these laws a person is guilty if he or she is deemed to have carried out "any act in preparation for or planning a terrorist act". It does not matter whether or not the terrorist act, or acts, have occurred, or whether or not there was a specific terrorist act in question.

Relatives and friends, prevented from having any contact with the men, stayed at the back of the court room calling out encouragement.

After the charges had been read out, the nine men were invited to enter a plea. While it is customary to stand as your name is called and then enter a plea, the men refused to do so for religious reasons.

At a prior committal hearing, the court had determined that there was sufficient evidence to bring the men to trial. But despite the men having been arrested 18 months ago, and the enormous sums of Commonwealth money being poured into "terror" related cases, it seemed that some of the defence barristers had only just received the charge sheet.

The prosecution admitted that it was still putting together the evidence. That, coupled with at least 80 days of continuous telecommunications intercepts still to be examined, meant that the trial date has been set down for the end of next February at the Darlinghurst Courts. The men will be remanded in custody until then as in "terrorism" cases, the presumption is against giving bail to the accused.

In the meantime, beginning in late August there will be a number of pre-trial matters including: applications to hear the cases against each of the men separately; applications to have the charges against some of the men quashed; and challenges to applications of the National Security Act which allows the attorney-general to declare certain evidence or witnesses subject to Australia's national security which in the case of witnesses, can prevent them from giving evidence or being cross-examined in a trial, and in the case of documentary evidence, can prevent it from being seen by accused (and their defence team) in its entirety, but still used as evidence in the trial.

After the hearing, Stop the War Coalition activists handed a solidarity letter to the family members of the men. It said "We are convinced that you are victims of a disgraceful campaign orchestrated by the Howard government … to try and justify its undemocratic 'anti-terror' laws.

"The attacks on yourselves and others, such as Mamdouh Habib, David Hicks, the 13 men being held in Barwon Prison and, more recently, the Tamils who raised money for tsunami relief, reflect the fact that the 'anti-terror' laws are really aimed at dividing the community, fostering racism and attacking all our democratic rights … But the campaign to bring David Hicks home has changed many Australians' views of the 'anti-terror' laws. Many are now deeply suspicious about the government's scare campaign, and this will help expose the truth about the ruthless treatment of Australians such as yourselves."