Jailed Aussie’s letter from Iraq: ‘I’m worried I won’t survive this ordeal much longer’

Key Points
  • Engineer Robert Pether has now been jailed in Iraq for three years.
  • He has penned a letter to Australia, detailing his arrest and mistreatment as he fears he won’t last much longer.
  • His lawyer and family say the Australian government needs to step up its efforts to free him.
As he marks three years in an Iraqi jail, Robert Pether says he feels “abandoned” in a letter calling on the Australian government to ramp up efforts to free him.
Pether, 49, and his Egyptian colleague Khaled Zaghloul were in 2021 and fined US$12 million ($18 million) on fraud charges. They insist on their innocence.
The charges stemmed from allegations the company they worked for defrauded the Iraqi government during a project to build the country’s central bank’s new headquarters.
“I have pleaded for three years for Prime Minister [Anthony] Albanese and Foreign Minister [Penny] Wong to do everything they can to help me and get me home,” said Pether in a letter received by his wife, Desree, and distributed by a friend.

“So far, I just feel abandoned.”

Robert Pether pictured while in prison. His family fears for his health. Source: Supplied

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

There are concerns over Pether’s health him suffering from bladder and kidney infections, and depression. His family also .
Pether claims in his letter that he was “forced to sign a pre-written, incrimination confession in Arabic” — a language he said he does not understand.

“There was no opportunity to defend myself,” he said.

A man, woman and young girl smiling at camera.

It’s been three years since Robert Pether (centre) saw his wife Desree (left) his four children. Source: Instagram / Desree Pether

They have requested how the letter was sent not be disclosed for fear Pether could lose his already limited access.

Pether and Zaghlou were held for five months before going to trial, where a judge deliberated for 15 minutes before convicting them.

In 2022, a United Nations report found Pether was being arbitrarily detained and that the imprisonment was breaching human rights and international law.

‘I want to go back to Australia’

Pether, an engineer and father of four, lived in Ireland with his wife before his arrest and had worked on and off in the Middle East for years.
He is originally from Sydney and said he longs to see his family and the everyday sights and sounds of home.
“I miss my family so much… I’ve missed so many milestones,” 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.”

A man, two teenage boys and a young girl sitting at a table

Robert Pether with three of his children Oscar, Flynn and Nala at the last birthday they were able to celebrate together. Source: Instagram / Desree Pether

His wife said she has grave concerns for Pether’s physical and mental health and said she had talked him “off the ledge” several times.

“It’s terrifying… because how many times can you do that?,” Desree, speaking from Ireland, told the ABC on Friday.
“To be an innocent man sitting there for three years, trying to prove your innocence is exhausting.”
She said her husband draws his strength from supporting her and their four children as best as he can via occasional phone calls from prison.

Pether’s United Kingdom-based lawyer, Peter Griffin, said Albanese needed to do more to secure his release.

Robert Pether’s family fears he’s ‘slipped through the cracks’

He claimed “sources in Iraq” said they had been “expecting some form of outreach … from Albanese”, but did not detail where those sources were placed.
“They are very hierarchical in Iraq, so nothing less than the PM (prime minister) will do the trick,” he said in an email to SBS News.

SBS News has contacted the prime minister’s office for comment.

A woman stands at a lectern looking serious.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong. Source: AAP / Lukas Coch

Meanwhile, his wife said she feels like he’s “slipped through the cracks”.

“He’s done nothing wrong and he just isn’t getting the support and help we thought he would’ve got,” she said.
A spokesperson for Wong said in a statement to SBS News: “We have consistently advocated for Mr Pether’s rights and welfare at all levels”.
“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.

“We will continue to support Mr Pether and his family and to advocate for his interests and wellbeing.”

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