Australian citizen and Irish resident, Robert Pether has been wrongfully imprisoned in Iraq since 7 April 2021. He and his colleague, Khalid Radwan were both detained in Baghdad after they went to Iraq to resolve a business dispute between the Iraqi government and their Dubai-based employer, CME Consulting. CME Consulting which is an engineering firm was working on the new headquarters for the Central Bank of Iraq.
The project was hit by delays and increased costs due to the COVID pandemic and a dispute arose whereby the Iraqi government demanded the return of $12 million USD paid to CME Consulting. As a result of this dispute between the Iraqi government and CME Consulting – both Robert Pether and Khalid Radwan who work for the company - were detained and put in prison. In March this year, The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated that their detention is arbitrary and called for their immediate release.
We’ve interviewed Robert’s family twice before and since then Robert’s health has severely deteriorated. He recently underwent surgery which left him with a 15cm wound that became infected. To make matters even worse, the deadly unrest in Iraq has Robert’s family worried that any efforts to secure his release will be delayed.
On this episode we speak again to Robert’s wife, Desree Pether. She talks about Robert’s health, how he’s doing now, the recent call between the Australian and Iraqi Prime Ministers as well as the need for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to create a special team dedicated to bringing Australians wrongfully detained abroad back home. Desree also tells us what the Iraqi and Australian governments need to do as well as how the public can help bring Robert home. We end the interview talking about Desree’s concerns with the current deadly unrest in Iraq and how this may affect Robert’s case.
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SITREP Pod 2: Free Robert Pether, Australian held in Iraq | Pod Hostage Diplomacy
Daren Nair, Desree Pether
Daren Nair 00:05
Welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. We work to free hostages and the unjustly detained around the world. Together with their families, we share their stories and let you know how you can help bring them home.
Elizabeth Whelan 00:18
Now when it comes to using the family to get... for Russia to get what they want, if that's the case, they've picked the wrong family, because I'm not going to carry water for the Russian authorities.
Daren Nair 00:28
These are some of the most courageous and resilient people among us.
Mariam Claren 00:32
I never thought that my mother, Nahid Taghavi, will ever have a link to negotiations in Vienna about the JCPOA. That's so crazy.
Daren Nair 00:43
People who have never given up hope.
Paula Reed 00:46
Trevor told his girlfriend to tell me to... to be strong. So, I'm trying to be strong for Trevor.
Joey Reed 00:50
You know, if Trevor can cope with what he's dealing with...
Paula Reed 00:53
Joey Reed 00:53
We can sure cope with the stress.
Daren Nair 00:55
People who will never stop working to reunite their families.
Joey Reed 01:00
We'd like to meet with the President. We believe that, you know, he has... he's surrounded by lots of experienced and and educated advisors. But I don't believe that any of them have ever had a child taken hostage by a foreign country, especially not a superpower like Russia.
Daren Nair 01:15
And we will be right there by their side until their loved one comes back home.
Richard Ratcliffe 01:20
Because if enough people care, then the right people will care enough.
Daren Nair 01:24
I'm Daren Nair, and I've been campaigning with many of these families for years. When I first started campaigning with these families, I noticed they struggled to get the media attention they needed. So, I decided to create this podcast, which is a safe space for the families to speak as long as they need to about their loved ones, and what needs to be done to bring them home.
Mariam Claren 01:45
Nobody can prepare you for what our family's going through. Even if someone had told me one year before, in one years, this is going to happen. Prepare yourself. It's impossible.
Daren Nair 01:59
Thank you for listening. And welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy.
Welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. Robert Pether is an Australian citizen who has been wrongfully imprisoned in Iraq since 7 April 2021. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has called for his immediate release. We've interviewed Robert's family twice on this podcast. We first spoke to his 18-year-old son Flynn Pether and then to his wife Desree Pether. Since we last spoke to Desree, there have been worrying developments with regards to Robert's health and the political situation in Iraq which has now become more volatile. We'll be speaking to Robert's wife Desree Pether once again on this episode and she'll be able to tell us more.
Now, for those of you who are not familiar with Robert's case, here's a quick summary. Robert Pether and his colleague Khalid Radwan were both detained in Baghdad on 7th April 2021 after they went to Iraq to resolve a business dispute between the Iraqi government and their Dubai-based employer, CME Consulting.
CME consulting, which is an engineering firm, was working on the new headquarters for the Central Bank of Iraq. The project was hit by delays and increased costs due to the COVID pandemic and a dispute arose whereby the Iraqi government demanded the return of $12 million paid to CME Consulting.
As a result of this dispute between the Iraqi government and CME Consulting, both Robert Pether and Khalid Radwan who worked for the company were detained and put in prison. In March this year, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated that their detention is arbitrary and has called for their immediate release. The same working group also stated the following: Robert and Khalid's imprisonment [(4:00)] constituted an enforced disappearance. Their detention is being used to exercise leverage in a commercial transaction in violation of international law. The working group also observed that Robert and Khalid were lured into returning to Iraq on the pretext of assisting in an investigation and have been arbitrarily detained without any legal basis. This working group finds credible the numerous allegations of collusion between the judge and the lawyer for the applicants, the Central Bank of Iraq.
Now, we tell all the family members we interview that we will keep campaigning with them until their loved ones come back home. And we mean it. We'll keep our listeners up-to-date with Robert's case through SITREP Pods like this one or Breaking News Pods. If you haven't already, please do listen to our previous episodes with Robert's family on our website podhostagediplomacy.com or on your podcast app.
Desree Pether, Robert's wife and the mother of his three children, joins us once again on this episode to give us an update on Robert's situation. Desree, we're so sorry for what you and your family are going through and we'll do everything we can to help. Now, a lot of things have happened since we last spoke, Desree. I understand that Robert recently underwent surgery. Can you please tell us more?
Robert has a skin condition and he has a lot of moles on his body. And he's had a lot removed over the years since he was a teenager. And then he's discovered a lot of new moles are on his back and he has developed a new mole on the same ear that he had a melanoma previously. He was kind of forced into a corner with regards to going and having [(6:00)] what he thought was biopsies but in fact turned out to be actual surgery. And two moles were removed from his back, one on his spine which resulted in a 15-centimeter wound, which immediately got infected and because he was sent straight back to the overcrowded cell that he shares with 22 other men.
It was actually his colleague Khalid, who's in prison with him, who was changing the dressings on the wound over the past couple of weeks. So it's been pretty hairy. He did get quite an infection and he was on antibiotics and also doing lots of other things like taking lots of vitamin C and taking raw garlic and doing whatever he could to try and curb the infection.
How is Robert doing now?
He's not very well at the moment. He's continuing to lose weight. He's lost quite a bit of weight, probably half his body weight. And he's lost a lot of muscle mass. His doctor in... family doctor was absolutely outraged and appalled at the level of atrophy and I guess that's from 16 months of sitting on the floor in a crowded cell and not having the opportunity to really exercise very much at all or do anything. So, yeah, he's very pale. He looks very, very unwell and he's still having dizzy spells and blacking out. And he just hasn't... he's not improving. He's going backwards and his health is declining rapidly.
I'm sorry to hear that. Now, Australia has a new government and a new prime minister and he recently had a call with the Iraqi prime minister. [(8:00)] Can you please tell us more?
Recently, there was a call made to Prime Minister Kadhimi in Iraq from Prime Minister Albanese in Australia as the new government has formed in Australia in May. We believe that Robert was part of that discussion. I haven't really had any more feedback exactly on what happened, but I can assume that that was the case and hopefully that has been a step in the right direction with regards to both countries working together to secure Robert's release.
Now, Desree, I know you and your family are going through the worst period of your lives but at the same time, you are all very strong and resilient. How are you and the kids doing?
Myself and the kids are doing quite well. And it's hard. Flynn is going into his second year of university. He finished school and did his final exams when this was first going on. And when it first happened, Oscar's about to go into his final year of school, and Nala has asked and asked to do a couple of videos, which she has done and which we sent out ourselves. We didn't do it through any media or outlets, but it helped her a lot. It gave her some empowerment and she felt like she had done something to help. So she asked the previous Australian prime minister if he could help her dad, and she has asked the new prime minister and also Prime Minister Kadhimi if they can please help her dad and bring him home to her. She's determined that he will be home for her birthday in October so she's wanting to do [(10:00)] as much as possible to make that happen.
The last time we spoke, you mentioned that you may have to sell your family home because you can't afford to pay Robert's legal fees. What's the situation now?
We're still trying to work a way to not have to sell our family home. It's a large property, but it was never supposed to be just a family home. We had plans, I had plans to finish my doctorate in herbal medicine and it was going to be a healing place for women. But that's all changed now. And we were going to do food lovers weekends and other various functions. And we're not sure that we're in the right place emotionally to continue with that dream at the moment.
It's really, really hard because it's hard to make huge decisions like that or work out what's the best way to go when you're in such an extreme emotional situation. And it's very, very difficult for Robert to have any inputs. And even though I ask him all the time and try and give him some power and control over something rather than everything being stripped away from him, his identity completely... And I ask him all the time to contribute towards major decisions that are being made, but it's very hard to get that commitment from him in his current situation, which is understandable, of course. So it's a fine line and for the most part, I'm having to do it all myself. We don't have a lot of friends here in Ireland, which we moved here, and then there was COVID. And then this happened. So it's been quite isolating and it's really just been myself and the three kids.
What should the Iraqi and Australian governments be doing?
I feel the Iraq [(12:00)] and the Australian government could definitely be doing a lot more. I think that really the whole case just needs to be looked at again. Even if they can just look at the evidence that was completely rejected in other court settings and then it would be over very quickly because there's so much evidence, mountains of evidence, showing that they're innocent. And really, it's just an oversight that it wasn't accepted previously and if that was just looked at, it would all be over in two seconds.
And just regarding his health, it's just so easy to see. He went and saw a dermatologist there and in the public hospital, and that's the one that did the two supposed biopsies, which were actual surgeries. The whole mole, the entire moles were removed. And our GP as well, our family doctor was just absolutely appalled that anyone, any dermatologist would not look at the man standing in front of them, with an explosion of new moles, a skin condition, a previous history of melanoma, and his current state of extreme ill-health, and actually even touch him and then send him back to a cell, a crowded cell.
It's just beyond belief that they actually even did anything and it's at a stage where he desperately needs medical attention that can't be provided in Iraq. We've tried for 9 months and it just literally cannot be provided in Iraq. There isn't the specialist care. They don't have experience with melanomas. Iraq just really needs to have some compassion [(14:00)] and let Robert get the medical help urgently that he needs.
The Australian government, the same. I just can't say it enough. Everyone needs to work together. And he's deteriorating each week. He's losing weight every week, and he's dizzy, and he's not well at all. He absolutely needs urgent medical attention. I just feel that if you actually saw the picture of him, and that was provided so that... for his doctor's reference for the moles, and saw the state of him and saw his eyes and the whites of his eyes and how dull they are... And he looks like he's got two black eyes because of the dark circles under his eyes and just the colour of his skin, he's gone completely grey in the last sixteen and a half months.
It's frightening to look at. He's just an absolute shell of the photos that I've got on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook where you can see that he was a big gentle giant. And he's an absolute shell of himself and he looks like a completely different person. He just looks so frail and so ill. And he's just not going to last very much longer while people decide whether or not they want to do the right thing and actually help him to get out.
The US State Department has a special team called the Office of the US.
Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs led by Ambassador Roger Carstens that works on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad. Does Australia have something similar? And if not, should they?
Definitely, I feel more can be done and the US have now [(16:00)] got a special envoy for people who are in the same situation that are US citizens. I absolutely agree that that's a fantastic move in the right direction. DFAT have a lot of cases on their hands and a dedicated envoy could only be a good thing. It's very, very hard to deal with the families in this situation. It's an extremely emotional situation and absolutely having somebody who's dedicated only to that position would be such a positive thing.
In general, governments all over the world need to do more. When this happened to Robert and I started looking into arbitrary detention, it just is such a shock that there's so many cases. Other people have reached out and helped me and tried to help guide me through different ways that we can work towards getting him out. They have been in the same situation or had a partner in the same situation. It's like a playbook. It's the same thing over and over. It's the kangaroo court. It's the convicted on hearsay, zero evidence against them, disappearing and being arrested by Security Forces, not by police. It's fabricated charges.
It's the whole thing over and over and over again, and it has to change globally the way that arbitrary detention is dealt with. And that's something that I am very passionate about changing in the future and even changing as much as I can now with regards to the suggestion for a special envoy being appointed like in America and things like that. Because it just can't keep happening. There's just entirely too many cases, [(18:00)] and it needs to be a swift and severe response where governments all work together and all join together and say that this is not acceptable behaviour. And you just can't keep taking citizens that are not your own and putting them in this situation. It just has to stop.
And there has to be tougher measures. The UN needs to have more ability apart from issuing the report. There has to be consequences if that report isn't adhered to. Things just definitely need to change in the right direction. It's just not acceptable to continue on in this way and for people to be held for years and years with no charges at all against them.
What can the public do to help bring Robert home?
We just basically need noise. We need people to contact Iraq embassies in their countries or the local, the nearest Iraq embassy and write to them and just say that Robert Pether is entitled to medical treatment under the Nelson Mandela Act. There's quite a few violations, the violations continue. The report from the UN Arbitrary Detention Working Group in March has expired and none of it has been rectified and it continues, and it's been nearly seventeen months. He has a skin condition and he has moles all over his body. And he desperately needs specialist medical care. He's deteriorating every week. [(20:00)] And he's aged at least 20 years in appearances. I can't stress enough how fragile he looks and how urgent it is and how worried we are that even a virus or anything could be really detrimental to him at this stage.
I need noise. I need support for him. I need as much support as people can give, spreading the hashtag Free Robert Pether and just imploring the Iraq government to do the right thing and release him. It's not like he even did anything wrong. I know that he was found guilty in their legal system, but there's... the report has said that due process wasn't even followed. And they have tried to show that they're innocent and that information wasn't accepted. So if we can just have an opportunity to do that even... it would all be over in a very short period of time.
Desree, we are almost at the end of our interview. Is there anything else you would like to mention?
I just want to add this, there is another component to the urgency of it apart from his declining, rapidly declining health and that is the situation politically in Iraq at the moment and how volatile it's been the last few weeks with protesting and buildings being stormed. Again today, it was very volatile and there was a lot of issues. It's very hard to be concerned about that as well because [(22:00)] we're worried that if something really gets out of control that health-wise time is going to go on, and it's going to be a huge delay before he actually gets the medical attention.
So it's another component of it and very unfortunate for the people of Iraq absolutely. Robert and I still only wish them peace. That it's got absolutely nothing to do with the people themselves what's happened to him, and it's only a very... a small handful of very, very bad people that have done this. It's just such a bad situation all around and I wish them peace, but I also wish to get my husband some medical attention and get him home to his family as soon as possible.
Desree, as we've said in all our episodes, we'll keep campaigning to free Robert until he is back home with you and the children. Thank you for taking the time to speak to us.
Thank you for listening to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. Thank you for giving your time and for showing these families that they're not alone, that there are good caring people out there, willing to stand by their side and help in any way possible.
Because if enough people care, then the right people will care enough. This is a basic rule of thumb that is true for all campaigning.
If you haven't already, please subscribe to our fortnightly newsletter called The Hostage Briefing. It's the best way to keep up to date with the cases we're working on as well as new episodes. You can subscribe to this newsletter using the link in the description of this podcast episode that you're currently listening to. Thanks again and take care.