‘Losing hope’: Wife of Australian engineer detained in Iraq says he’s stopped talking about release
Australian engineer Robert Pether is losing hope he will be released from the crowded Iraqi jail where he has spent almost 80 days without charge, his wife says.
Pether was arrested 77 days ago after he travelled to Baghdad to try to resolve a dispute between his firm and Iraqi authorities about the construction of the central bank’s new headquarters. Expecting to meet with officials from the Central Bank of Iraq, Pether and a colleague were instead arrested and initially held in isolation.
He is now being held in a 14-foot cell with 22 other inmates and is no closer to understanding what charges he faces, according to his wife, Desree. The case has been shifted to another court, where Pether could be sentenced to three years behind bars.
“For the last two weeks, he has stopped engaging in any conversation about when he’ll get out,” Desree Pether told Guardian Australia.
“Because our eight-year-old daughter has been drawing pictures for him of them at the beach, and them canoeing … I’ve got her focussing on what she wants to do with Daddy on the summer break in Europe. He won’t talk about getting out at all now, he just refuses to engage in it.”
One of Robert’s sons, Flynn, has just turned 18. The stress of the ordeal forced him to miss one of his final exams. He has also put off plans to go to university and study engineering.
Flynn has previously told Guardian Australia what was happening to his father was “downright inhumane” and “criminal”.
Pether is being allowed out of his cell for 20 minutes some days. Otherwise, the inmates push their bunk beds to the back of the room and sit on the floor.
The standard food they are offered is not enough to sustain them, Desree said, so Pether is using his funds to pay for additional supplies for himself and four other Iraqi prisoners.
“That’s the kind of guy he is,” she said. “He’s in an Iraqi prison and he’s helping Iraqis who don’t have access to extra cash.”
The Pether family is now being advised by a new international legal team.
Desree said the team believed multiple international laws had been breached.
“It comes back to the fact that they’re employees [of the company at the centre of the contractual dispute] and they still haven’t been charged,” she said.
Pether’s family believe he is being held to give the Central Bank of Iraq leverage in its ongoing dispute with Pether’s employer, a Dubai-based consulting firm.
The firm, CME Consulting, was awarded a deal in 2015 to help build the bank’s new headquarters, a high-profile project based on designs by the late Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid.