LONDON: Australia has been accused of wrongly canceling the citizenship of a man from Sydney after he was sentenced to death in Iraq.
Ahmad Merhi, 30, was convicted of terrorism charges in connection with Daesh and sentenced to death by hanging in 2018.
He denies the charges, saying he was coerced into confessing after he was captured in Syria in 2017, three years after flying to the country.
Merhi said he received a letter from the Australian government while on death row informing him that he had been stripped of his citizenship, and he had tried to forward the letter to his lawyer Mohammad Khan but he never received it.
Khan said he had received no clarity from the Australian government about under which laws Merhi’s citizenship had been stripped.
Merhi’s mother says she was informed of the decision in a telephone call but never received official confirmation.
Khan believes Merhi was wrongly stripped of his citizenship over a belief that he may have been a Lebanese dual national, when in fact he is only eligible for Lebanese citizenship but has never held it.
Australian law allows for the stripping of citizenship from people who have committed terrorist acts, but rendering a person stateless is illegal under international law. Khan is calling on the government to overturn the decision.
Questions have also been raised over the manner in which Merhi came to be moved from Syria to Iraq — by US forces as part of a controversial series of prisoner transfers — in the first place.
Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil was asked by The Guardian newspaper whether Merhi’s case had been “raised between Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his Iraqi counterpart Mustafa Al-Kadhimi … and whether she would assist the family in understanding whether Merhi’s transfer from Syria to Iraq was legal and authorized by the Australian government.”
O’Neil referred all questions to her government department. The Department of Home Affairs said it did not comment on individual cases.
Merhi, who lost a leg in an airstrike in Syria, is being held in Nasiriyah prison, where he has had little contact with Australian officials beyond learning his citizenship had been removed and he would lose legal funding, and has only rarely been allowed to speak to his family.
He was captured by Kurdish forces in late 2017 trying to cross into Turkey with his pregnant wife.
He is thought to have been a member of Daesh’s health department, and is suspected of raising funds for the group and helping Shadi Mohammad, the sister of the man who killed Australian police worker Curtis Cheng in Sydney in 2015, to flee to Syria.
A relative of Merhi’s told The Guardian that he should face justice in Australia, and that the government needs to explain how his citizenship was stripped and how he came to be transferred from Syria to Iraq.
“There’s no transparency about what happened with Ahmad. There’s no answers,” she said. “How was he captured? How was he placed in Iraq? Where is he going to be from day to day?”