An Australian citizen has still not been told what charge he is facing, has only just been seen by Australian officials and is yet to meet his lawyer, despite spending 30 days behind bars in Baghdad.
Australian officials visited Robert Pether for the first time on Monday, day 26 of his detention, and are now asking if he can get a meeting with his lawyer.
Pether’s wife, Desree, spoke to her husband on Monday, their second call during the four-week ordeal, and said he was “desperate” and felt betrayed by both Iraq and Australia.
Desree said she was deeply frustrated by the time it took for Australian officials to visit her husband and begin requesting that Iraqi authorities allow a meeting with his lawyer.
“I’m absolutely astonished,” she told Guardian Australia, speaking from Ireland. “The fact is there is no charge, so technically they could be released, and because of that, and because of the inactivity, this could have happened ages ago and saved a lot of angst.”
Pether, a mechanical engineer, had been working on a project to build a new Central Bank of Iraq headquarters in Baghdad but the project had become mired in a contractual dispute.
The bank invited the Dubai resident to the city, assuring him the issues had been resolved. When he arrived for a meeting, he was arrested.
Desree said her husband had sought advice from Australia’s embassy before travelling to Iraq and had been assured he would be safe.
She said she had since learnt that another Australian had been arrested in similar circumstances.
She said she was “massively frustrated” and felt let down by the Australian government.
“What’s happening is next Monday they will visit Robert again, and they are taking him a book,” she said. “That’s it. Oh, and a couple of photos that I’ve sent them to print out.
“They’re also asking if his lawyer can visit, so he can actually meet his lawyer.”
Pether is originally from Sydney but has worked in the Middle East for more than a decade. He has never had any difficulty in Iraq before.
He was arrested with an Egyptian colleague; the Egyptian embassy was the first to get them a phone and arrange a call to Desree.
Desree is caring for their three children, who she said were having a hard time dealing with the arrest.
“I’m worried about Robert but I’m also worried about my kids,” she said. “Our family is unravelling and this needn’t have happened.”
The department has previously declined to comment on the case, other than to say it is seeking urgent consular access to a man in Baghdad.
It also said its general advice was not to travel to Iraq due to the risk of violence, kidnapping, armed conflict and the volatile security situation.