Muddy not the waters, let the young man have a fair trial! | Sunday Observer

Muddy not the waters, let the young man have a fair trial!

There has been much discussion, debate and controversy surrounding the arrest of a Sri Lankan student, Kamar Nizamdeen in Australia where Police are alleging that he was involved in a terror plot. The 25-year old PhD student at a university in Sydney was detained after a colleague found a notebook allegedly containing details of plans to kill former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his then deputy Julie Bishop.

The alleged list of targets also included the former Australian speaker Bronwyn Bishop, the Sydney Opera House, major train stations and police stations across Sydney. Nizamdeen’s arrest was apparently headline news in Australia with major print and electronic media outlets giving wide publicity to the incident. Publicity was also given to the fact that Nizamdeen was reportedly related to Provincial Councils, Local Government and Sports Minister, Faiszer Musthapha.

The issue here is not whether Nizamdeen is guilty or not. The young man is facing serious allegations, but has not been found guilty yet. Nor has he been pronounced innocent, for that matter. What is curious is the reaction to the incident- both locally and in Australia. In Australia, the fact that Nizamdeen is related to a Sri Lankan Minister reportedly generated much interest. The major Australian broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, (ABC) went to town, tracing Nizamdeen’s ancestry and linking him not only to Minister Faiszer Musthapha but also to his grandfather, former Bank of Ceylon Chairman Jehan Cassim.

In a report sensationally titled ‘Alleged Islamic State affiliate has uncle in Sri Lankan government’, this is how the ABC portrayed the incident of Nizamdeen’s arrest: “A University of New South Wales student accused of documenting plans in a notebook to assassinate two senior Australian politicians is the nephew of a Sri Lankan cabinet minister.

The ABC can reveal Mohamed Nizamdeen, 25, is related to Sri Lankan MP Faiszer Musthapha, who is the country’s Sports and Local Government Minister.

The PhD student, who was on Friday charged with a terrorism-related offence, is also the grandson of Jehan Kamer Cassim, the late former chairman of one of Sri Lanka’s biggest banks — Bank of Ceylon”. What was the ABC trying to prove? Were they trying to make a case for guilt by association? The next thing we know, we might hear the ABC stating that the Sri Lankan government was involved in a plot against their country because the person they have arrested for being a suspected terrorist is a relative of a Sri Lankan minister! It has been reported that Minister Musthapha is baffled by all the unwanted attention that is coming his way- and he has every right to be.

Even if he is a close relative of Nizamdeen, it would be unfair by the Minister to drag his name into a serious matter such as having links with terrorism.

Last week, in these very columns, we chastised Minister Musthapha for his reluctance to hold elections be they for Local Councils, Provincial Councils or even Sri Lanka Cricket. This week though, we daresay, the Minister has cause to feel aggrieved at the spotlight being turned on him again, for all the wrong reasons. Having a relative being detained does not make one a criminal or a terrorist- and that was what was being implied, that too in a not so subtle manner.

If that was the reaction in the Australian media, what is appearing in its Sri Lankan counterpart is equally incongruous. Friends, supporters, politicians and even former principals are rushing to proclaim Nizamdeen’s innocence.

They have already declared that he is such a ‘nice’ person and therefore could not have committed the offences he is charged with. The fact of the matter is that Nizamdeen has been charged with some serious offences. He has not been found guilty because he hasn’t had his day in court yet. He is entitled to a presumption of innocence.

He is entitled to receive all the support that he can get but declaring him innocent without having access to all the facts of the case is foolhardy. Some are even suggesting that Nizamdeen is the victim of a conspiracy and that he is being framed! That is certainly not what the Australian Federal Police is suggesting.

The charges laid against Nizamdeen were ‘serious and significant’, detectives who detained Nizamdeen were quoted as saying. “At this stage there are a number of locations and individuals that are potential targets,” a detective involved in the investigation has said. Police have indicated they believe Nizamdeen had links with the terrorist organisation, Islamic State (IS).

It would be a fair assessment that the Australian Federal Police is not acting under the dictates of its political masters or some other authority, unlike their local counterparts. They would have some basis to proceed with arresting Nizamdeen and making public statements explaining what they are doing. Being dismissive of that process is as equally naïve as implying that Faiszer Musthapha is involved in this saga.

Nizamdeen will have his say when he appears in court in late October. If those who are supporting him can channel their energies into ensuring thathe has adequate legal representation, they can plead their case in the proper manner.

His lawyers will then have access to all the facts of the case and are entitled to dispute the charges. If he is indeed innocent, justice will prevail.

That would be a far more rational way of dealing with this, rather than shouting from every rooftop that Nizamdeen is innocent. Minister Musthapha- and therefore Nizamdeen- hails from a family with a legal background.

They can, and should use that to their advantage and take necessary measures to ensure that due process is followed in Nizamdeen’s trial.

That will serve them better than trying to muddy the waters by issuing media statements proclaiming Nizamdeen’s innocence and accusing the Australian authorities of a conspiracy. We are not holding a brief for the Australian government.

Nor would we do so for Nizamdeen. Let the young man have a fair trial. Until then, all concerned must hold their peace, without jumping into premature conclusions.