Doctors for an Australian engineer jailed in Iraq have privately warned the Australian government of fears that Australia will be repatriating “a corpse” if his condition continues to rapidly deteriorate.
Robert Pether’s family have repeatedly raised fears about the 47-year-old’s health since he was jailed over a business dispute relating to the construction of a new headquarters for Iraq’s central bank, which Pether’s firm was working on.
Pether’s family say he is innocent and a UN working group has expressed concerns Pether’s detention and trial were potentially compromised.
His family also say in the 16 months since he returned to Iraq and was arrested, Pether has lost more than 40 kilograms, shed muscle mass, and suffered from low blood pressure and prolonged dizziness.
Photos show Pether’s skin has turned “completely grey”, his family said.
They are also concerned that moles on his skin, first seen late last year, are cancerous. Pether had already survived skin cancer prior to his imprisonment.
Pether’s doctor, based in Italy, who does not want to be named, was so concerned at the state of his health that he wrote to both the Australian embassy in Iraq and the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, in recent weeks raising alarm about Pether’s dire condition.
“After stressing that Mr Pether has had all his human rights trampled on, as his doctor, I strongly urge that he be released from this inhumane detention and be subjected to the checks that he needs URGENTLY in a hospital environment,” the doctor wrote.
“If he is not afforded this basic human right without delay, I fear that Australia will in short time be repatriated with the corpse of Mr Pether.”
The doctor’s letter expressed particular concerns about skin lesions on his patient’s body, particularly on his left ear. He suspects the lesions are cancerous, but said that could only be confirmed by biopsy and a specialist dermatologist.
Pether’s doctor also said Iraqi authorities had only conducted blood tests, despite the ear lesion existing since November 2021.
Pether’s wife, Desree, had been told by Iraqi authorities that she must send her own dermatologist to Iraq, if she wanted her husband to receive the proper tests.
“If the situation wasn’t so serious for Mr Pether, it would be laughable,” her doctor wrote.
He warned photos of Pether’s skin discoloration were “absolutely incompatible with that of a subject in acceptable physical condition”.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention released a report on Pether’s detention in March, finding it to be arbitrary and a breach of international law. The report called for their release.
It found the trial of Pether and his colleague, Egyptian national Khalid Radwan, was deeply compromised. It raised concerns about the charges against the pair being changed mid-trial, before both were convicted of fraud and sentenced to five years behind bars.
The UN working group said it had received allegations that “[Pether] was exposed to extreme cold, threats of death, humiliation and various forms of psychological abuse”. The report also cited allegations that Pether had been “blindfolded, interrogated, screamed at, threatened, insulted and shown torture rooms”.
“He was barred from any contact with the outside world for the first 19 days of his detention and was permitted to go outside for only two hours,” the complaint to the UN working group said.
In late June, Albanese raised Pether’s case with the Iraqi leader, Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
Labor MP Peter Khalil, who has advocated on Pether’s behalf, raised the case in parliament last week.
“Robert is enduring the difficult and harsh conditions of his detention, while his health has rapidly deteriorated,” he said. “His case is dire.”
Khalil said Australia’s diplomats were working around the clock to help Pether.
“I – and I think, hopefully, I will be joined in a bipartisan way by my colleagues – call on the Iraqi government to consider Robert’s case and grant him the clemency which is available under Iraqi law and/or release Robert on compassionate grounds, given his dire health condition,” he said. “This is also available under Iraqi law, particularly as he has already spent almost a year and a half in detention.”