Son of Australian engineer arrested in Iraq condemns father’s ‘inhumane’ treatment

Robert Pether’s lawyer alleges he is being held as leverage in a dispute with Central Bank of Iraq in ordeal his son says is hitting the family hard

The teenage son of an Australian man imprisoned without charge in Iraq has labelled his father’s treatment as “downright inhumane” and “criminal”, saying the prolonged ordeal is hitting his family hard.

Flynn Pether, 17, is likely to mark his 18th birthday in two weeks still despairing about his father, Robert Pether, who has now spent 41 days behind bars in Baghdad.

Robert, an engineer working on construction of the new Central Bank of Iraq headquarters, was lured back to Iraq in early April, purportedly to resolve a business dispute that had stalled the project.

When he turned up for a meeting with bank executives on 7 April, he and a colleague were arrested and held without charge.

He was denied bail last week and his lawyer has alleged he is being held to give the bank leverage in its ongoing dispute with Pether’s employer, a Dubai-based consulting firm.

Speaking to the Guardian about his father’s treatment for the first time, Flynn said it had hit the family hard.

“I feel like it’s criminal what they did,” he said. “It’s downright inhumane the way they’ve been treating him, given he has worked tirelessly around the clock to deliver the project.”

Flynn is currently preparing for his university entrance exams in Ireland, something that brings its own enormous stress. Usually, his father would be there to support him. They were close and spoke daily, often about university and Flynn’s future.

But he has managed to speak to his father behind bars just once during the ordeal, for about 30 seconds.

“As soon as he knew that I was on the line, he was just apologising, saying ‘Sorry I can’t make it to graduation, sorry I can’t get to your birthday, I will make it up to you, I promise,’” he said.

“I said to him, ‘It’s not going anywhere without you, and it’s all being recorded anyway. You’re not missing out.’”

Robert’s wife Desree has previously told the Guardian that, prior to travelling to Baghdad for the meeting, her husband sought advice from the Australian embassy. She says he was advised there would be little risk in going to the meeting.

“It was already tough on Mum, him being away all the time, but when it happened it struck her very hard,” Flynn said. “Because Dad was supposed to be coming home after that meeting anyway, so to hear what had happened and having no clue as to what was going to happen next, it was really hard on my Mum.”

The Guardian has approached the Central Bank of Iraq for a response. It has not responded.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is also limited in what it can say about the case. It says it is providing consular assistance and said its standard travel advice about Iraq warned of the risk of violence, kidnapping, armed conflict and the volatile security situation.

Asked what message he wanted to send to Iraqi authorities, Flynn said: “I would just ask them why they are doing it and what they seek to gain out of it? Especially because he’s answered the questions, so what’s the point?”

Robert has a second son Oscar, 15, and daughter Nala, 8.

Oscar and Flynn are both Irish citizens.

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