Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr has slammed the Egyptian judicial system just as a man convicted under the system is at the centre of a security storm in Australia.
On Thursday, in an interview with Fairfax Media’s Breaking Politics program Senator Carr said the judicial system that President Mohamed Morsi had inherited needed to be treated with ”a great deal of caution, even suspicion”.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Julia Gillard ordered a high-level inquiry into apparent intelligence and immigration failures that meant an Egyptian asylum seeker convicted of terrorism charges was housed for nearly a year in low-security detention after arriving in Australia by boat.
This followed pressure from the opposition, who claim there has been a failure of national security on the Gillard government’s watch.
According to ASIO and the AFP testimony at a Senate hearing last week, the man was convicted in Egypt in 1999 of terrorism offences including belonging to Egyptian Islamic Jihad – a militant group which later merged with al-Qaeda – as well as premeditated murder and possession of explosives.
Senator Carr said on Thursday that “there is no doubt from all the analysis” that the police, prosecutorial and judicial system the current Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi inherited from the old Mubarek regime was “riven with corruption and very, very, compromised”.
“Certainly the judicial system that President Morsi’s government has inherited from the Mubarak regime has got to be treated with a great deal of caution, even suspicion,” he said.
Senator Carr said he would be “interested in further information that throws light on the nature of the prosecution”.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus was asked on Thursday if the government had any advice about the legitimacy of the man’s conviction.
Mr Dreyfus noted it was made in absentia and that it was more than a decade ago.
“What that demonstrates is that you need to investigate,” he told reporters in Canberra. “We’re a country with a rule of law. What we do in Australia is investigate, we don’t jump to conclusions. We don’t speak first and think later, which seems to be what the opposition is doing here.”
The Egyptian man arrived in Australia by boat in May last year. ASIO and the AFP told the department of the man’s past in August and November respectively, but he was not moved out of the low-security Inverbrackie immigration detention centre in the Adelaide Hills to the higher-security Villawood centre in Sydney until April.
The opposition still wants an independent parliamentary probe into the issue.
“Given the scale of the misinformation, given the fact so many ministers are currently in the dark … this reveals monumental incompetence,” Opposition Leader Tony Abbott told reporters in Canberra.
“It also seems to reveal a culture where people didn’t ask and weren’t told.”
The Sydney Morning Herald