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Australian Convicted of Terror Charges Freed on Appeal

  • Phil Mercer

A court in Melbourne has quashed the conviction of an Australian man jailed for receiving money from al-Qaida. The Muslim convert was arrested in Pakistan three years ago and charged under tough anti-terrorism laws introduced by Australia in the wake of the attacks in the United States in September 2001.

Three judges at the appeals court in the Australian state of Victoria on Friday overturned the conviction of Joseph Thomas for receiving funds from a terrorist organization.

The judges said an interview Australian police conducted with Thomas in Pakistan in 2003 was inadmissible because a lawyer had not been present at the time.

Thomas' lawyer Rob Starrey did not comment on the judges' decision but extended his thanks to the prison authorities who had helped his client deal with depression.

"We'd like to thank the people at Thomas Embley hospital and as you know he's spent the last several months in psychiatric care," he said. "He's in a debilitated condition as a result of what's transpired so we would like to thank those people."

Thomas - nicknamed 'Jihad Jack' by Australian media - was sentenced to five years in prison in March.

At his trial a jury rejected prosecutors' claims that the former taxi driver had volunteered to set up an al-Qaida-sponsored terror cell in Australia.

He was eventually found guilty of lesser charges of receiving $3,500 and a plane ticket from a terrorist network, and for carrying a false passport.

Defense lawyers had argued that the 33-year-old Muslim convert had endured "cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment" at the hands of Pakistani interrogators.

Thomas' defense team alleged the interrogators had suggested he would be sent to the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba if he did not cooperate.

Thomas was the first Australian to be jailed under new laws on the funding of terrorism passed by Canberra in 2002. They were introduced in response to the attacks in New York and Washington in 2001.

Lawyers for the Australian government argued at the appeal that Thomas should not only remain in jail but that his sentence should be increased.

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