A former terror suspect is suing the Victorian Government because he says he was assaulted, served pork, made to wear an orange “terrorist” uniform and ridiculed over his religion while in the state’s highest security prison.
Hany Taha claims he is suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder because he was denied medical and psychiatric treatment while subjected to excessive intrusive body searches, unnecessary handcuffing and shackling, and assaults while on remand in Barwon Prison’s Acacia Unit.
In a statement of claim lodged with the Supreme Court last month, Mr Taha, a Muslim, also alleges he was served non-halal food, was restricted in his ability to practice his religion, forced to meet visitors in “boxes” and received “inhuman treatment”.
One of his 42 grounds for complaint refers to authorities “requiring that the plaintiff wear orange ‘terrorist’ type prison uniform” – similar to the detainees in Guantanamo.
However prison sources claim Mr Taha’s uniform was actually a red tracksuit similar to those worn by other high-profile prisoners such as Carl Williams for their own protection.
Mr Taha was held on remand from November 2005 to September 2008 after being charged with being a member of a terrorist group and attempting to make funds available to it.
While eight men, including Muslim cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika, were convicted during Australia’s biggest terrorism trial, Mr Taha was one of four men acquitted by a jury.
The prosecution had claimed Mr Taha’s family panel beating business ran a car rebirthing racket to raise money for a terror plot, with potential targets including the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Grand Final day, Melbourne’s rail network and Crown casino during the Grand Prix.
Claiming he was injured as a result of intentional acts by the State of Victoria, Mr Taha is seeking unspecified damages that could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars, as well as more than $1.7 million for the money he says he will forgo as a spray painter due to his illnesses.
Legal documents claim Mr Taha is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and stress, panic disorder with agoraphobia, adjustment disorde, and tinnitus, psychiatric and psychological injuries as a result of improper and unlawful conditions of detention.
A spokesman for Corrections Minister Andrew McIntosh, James Talia, said the Government would fight the claims.
He said the Government would “vigorously defend the action against the department”.
Sources have said that Mr Taha was seen by a doctor more than 60 times while on remand, as well as receiving about 20 visits from a psychiatrist and having more than 60 sessions with a psychiatric nurse.
The Government’s defence is likely that while it was an extreme measure to place someone on remand in the high-security Acacia unit, the terror charges, heightened sense of alarm in the community and risk to Mr Taha’s safety from other prisoners, necessitated the action.
As well as listing 42 individual allegations and claims of breaches or negligence by the state, Mr Taha claims he was assaulted by prison officers when he was dragged from a prison van while suffering dehydration.
He says he was taunted by officers telling him God was speaking to him on an intercom, claims another officer cuffed him tightly and violently for no reason and that he was racially slurred and called a “pig”.
Mr Taha’s lawyer, Tamar Hopkins, said the case was of vital importance but that neither she nor her client would comment on matters currently before the courts.