The Trial is the inside story of Australia’s biggest terrorism trial which ran from February 2008 until the delivery of verdicts in September 2008.It takes the audience behind the scenes as barrister Greg Barns, solicitor Robert Stary and a large legal team battle to defend their clients. The trial ran for nine months, involved 25 lawyers, 12 accused and 482 secretly recorded conversations.
Two of the men, Ezzit Raad and Abdullah Merhi, were charged with being members of a terrorist organization and with providing it with resources. They faced possible sentences of up to 35 years in jail. In Abdullah’s case he is accused of planning to be Australia’s first suicide bomber.
The film tells Abdullah’s side of the story through his brother Omar. He believes his brother is a man of peace, who was influenced by the group’s leader initially, but rejected any ideas of violence well prior to his arrest.
The prosecution argue that the secretly recorded conversations prove the men were committed to violent jihad and that they planned to bomb a railway station or the Melbourne Cricket Ground. They played to the court recordings where some of the accused men discuss the terrorist bombings in London and Madrid, retaliation for the war in Iraq and killing John Howard. They show the court terrorist handbooks and beheading videos owned by some of the men.
The defence team argue the men were members of a religious group more concerned with knowledge of the Koran and not intending to mount terrorist attacks. Greg Barns argues his client only talked about the idea of terrorism. Greg calls it “thought crime” and rails against the new laws that have criminalized what individuals “say” rather than what they “do”. The defence team argue that the threat of terrorism has been used by governments to extend the reach of the law into areas traditionally protected by the principles of freedom of speech and association. They believe the ambiguity of the laws could pose a bigger threat to our democratic values than the threat of terrorism.
After listening to the evidence for seven months and spending twenty-one days considering their verdict, the jury found both men guilty of being members of a terrorist organization. Abdullah, however, was found not guilty of planning to be a suicide bomber.
This is an important film for everyone concerned about human rights and how Australia deals with the very real threat posed by Islamic terrorists.