A London-based lawyer has urged the United Nations to take immediate action to halt an Australian citizen’s imminent deportation from Morocco to Saudi Arabia, warning that his life is at risk if the transfer goes ahead.
Businessman and former Melbourne imam Osama Al-Hasani was arrested at his wife’s home in Tangier, Morocco, on 8 February, hours after arriving from his home in the United Kingdom to visit his four-month-old baby.
The 42-year-old is currently being held in Tiflet Prison 2, about 60 kilometres east of Morocco’s capital, Rabat, and could be transferred to Saudi Arabia “at any moment”, his lawyer said after a Moroccan court approved the extradition request on Thursday.
“There is no information [the family] have been given about when he might be extradited … there are concerns that he could be extradited at any time and without any notification,” the family’s international lawyer, Haydee Dijkstal, told SBS News on Thursday.
“This is a big problem for the family and causing quite a lot of worry and anxiety.”
Ms Dijkstal sent an urgent letter to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment on behalf of the family on 5 March calling for immediate steps to be taken to stop the violation of his human rights.
The submission raised concerns that Dr Al-Hasani had been targeted by Saudi Arabia for criticising the government, giving rise to fears his right to freedom of expression and association was being violated.
“There are concerns that the motivation for Saudi Arabia’s request for his extradition might be based on his political expression that has been, in the past, critical of the government and its policies,” Ms Dijkstal said.
“There is a track record of individuals who speak out about topics of activism or opposition to the Saudi government, that they are targeted by the government and if they are detained, their rights are severely violated in detention.”
Dr Al-Hasani’s wife, Hana, described the details of his arrest, during which she said eight officers dressed in civilian clothes stormed the residence and insulted, abused, and beat him.
She said the officers told Dr Al-Hasani at the time the arrest was based on a request from Saudi Arabia but declined to list any official charges.
He later learned that the extradition request was related to an alleged car theft in Saudi Arabia for which he was acquitted of three-years-prior.
Local media previously reported Dr Al-Hasani was targeted for allegedly participating in the organisation of “an activity of public opposition” to the Islamic sect Wahhabism, the dominant faith in Saudi Arabia.
Hana said her husband was forced to leave his job at the Saudi Ministry of Industry and Foreign Trade in 2015 due to political pressure. Speaking to SBS News earlier this month, Hana said she feared her husband’s “fate will be like that of Jamal Khashoggi”, referring to the Washington Post columnist who was allegedly killed by the Saudi government officials in 2018.
The dual Australia-Saudi citizen was allegedly only granted one 30-minute meeting with a Moroccan lawyer following his arrest and his wife has similarly only been permitted to visit him for five minutes since his arrest.
During this meeting, Hana said her husband told her he had been pressured into signing a document allowing his extradition without a court hearing and before he had received legal advice.
“Saudi Arabia’s evidenced pattern of abuse and violations demonstrates the credible and real risk that Mr Al-Hasani will not receive a fair trial in Saudi Arabia and that his fundamental due process rights and right to health and safety would be at significant risk in Saudi Arabia,” Ms Dijkstal said in a statement.
“It is of worry that he has been pressured by authorities to sign a statement which waives his right to extradition proceedings in Morocco.
“In addition, he has been subjected to degrading treatment in detention causing significant anxiety and stress, and which has been exacerbated by limited and unreliable communication with his family, and particularly his wife.”
A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) spokesperson told SBS News Australian consular officials have visited Dr Al-Hasani and that they were concerned by the circumstances of his detention.
Facing an ‘unknown fate’
Dr Al-Hasani, who is a father of four, was not present for the hearing in Rabat on Thursday and it is unclear when the extradition will take place.
Speaking to SBS News after the ruling, Hana said she feared for her husband’s life.
“The fact he will be extradited to Saudi Arabia means simply that he is going to be tortured, and maybe worse than that, things I don’t want to think about right now,” she said via WhatsApp.
“I am so afraid for my husband, who is facing an unknown fate. Will I see him again or not? How will I raise my son without a father?”
A statement released by lawyers on behalf of the family described Thursday’s ruling as an “extraordinary and disappointing decision” amid a “real and credible risk to Mr Al-Hasani’s fundamental rights, safety and security”.
It is concerning that the United Nation Special Rapporteurs had so far taken no steps to address Dr Al-Hasani’s case, the statement continued, noting the court’s decision was a violation of Morocco’s obligations under the Convention against Torture, to which they are a signatory.
“The Government of Australia is called upon to publicly oppose the extradition of its own national to Saudi Arabia,” it said.
Last week, Hana sent a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison pleading for assistance.
The DFAT spokesperson told SBS News they were providing consular assistance to an Australian man detained in Morocco and that Australia’s embassy in Rabat was in direct contact with local officials, but declined to provide further comment due to privacy obligations.
It is understood consular assistance may include visits to prison, welfare checks and help with contacting family members but does not include legal advice.
Before moving overseas, Dr Al-Hasani worked as a guest imam at a mosque in West Melbourne in the early 2010s where the President of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Adel Salman, said he was “quite popular” for his recitals of the Qu’ran.
His Twitter profile, which has more than 5,000 followers, says he is an “Associate Professor of business information systems” and a “consultant for international business trade”.
Human rights group Prisoners of Conscience, which advocates on behalf of people detained in Saudi Arabia, has launched an online campaign calling for the immediate release of Mr Al-Hasani.
“Those who assassinated Jamal Khashoggi and tortured prisoners of conscience, including women activists, will dare to do similar things to Dr Osama Al-Hasani,” they said on Thursday. “We can still save him if we keep on spreading his case.”
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