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Seeking justice for Jack

  • 23 April 2006

 As ordinary as a slice of bread. This is how a 31-year-old man shovelling dirt in a suburban front yard in Werribee, west of Melbourne, is described by his neighbour. Moving earth as a favour for another neighbour, Jack Thomas is reputed to be generous and hard-working. He’s also alleged to have links with terrorists. Those neighbours who peered out their windows on a November morning last year witnessed a Channel 7 camera crew outside the home in which Thomas, his wife Maryati, their two daughters and his elderly mother-in-law were sleeping. The crew was there to capture on film several police storming into the Thomases’ house with machine-guns and Alsatians. They’d come to arrest a man the media had already dubbed ‘Jihad Jack’. Thomas was shackled and kept in isolation in Barwon maximum security prison. He faced three charges: altering his passport, receiving funds from al Qaeda, and providing support to al Qaeda. Facing up to 55 years in prison if convicted, Thomas is pleading not guilty to all charges. ‘The person we know and love bears no resemblance to the myth you read about in the papers,’ says his brother, Les Thomas. Thomas is one of the first Australians charged under the Howard Government’s new anti-terror laws. His supporters claim he is an ordinary bloke who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. If it happened to Jack, they say, it could happen to any of us. ‘There’s a school of thought that says Jack is a sacrificial lamb in Australian politics in the war on terror,’ says his lawyer, Rob Stary. Liberty Victoria’s Brian Walters SC describes the Government’s actions towards Thomas as ‘most improper’, ‘an abuse of power’ and ‘a breach not only of human rights, but of the law’. Thomas’s support campaign, Justice 4 Jack, has attracted several hundred supporters around the world. America’s most outspoken political dissident, Noam Chomsky, has declared that ‘Australians should be alarmed’ about the Thomas case. Among authors, legal bodies and academics who have signed up is Dr Tim Anderson, the civil libertarian wrongly convicted for the 1978 Sydney Hilton bombings. He flew to Melbourne to support Thomas, whose case, he believes, has sinister parallels with Anderson’s own framing and wrongful eight-year imprisonment. Thomas came to the attention of Australian police after a series of fateful events. In 1996 he began a spiritual journey that would eventually lead him to