Meet the forgotten terrorist
March 16, 2007 11:00pm
IN a hellish gulag in a remote region that was the heartland of Stalin’s labour camps, Australia’s forgotten terrorist rots.
Noorpolat Abdulla, 36, faces nine more years locked away in deepest Kazakhstan on terrorism charges his supporters say are highly questionable.
He has never met his youngest son, who was born after he was shut away following a secret trial.
Australia’s honorary consul in Kazakhstan endures a six-hour journey to visit Abdulla every six months to deliver rations of sugar, nuts and chocolate.
“He seems to be Australia’s forgotten terrorist,” consul Steve Kappelle says. “David Hicks gets so much attention for being locked up in Guantanamo Bay, but nobody really knows about Noorpolat.”
Abdulla became an Australian citizen in 1986.
He attended the same Adelaide mosque as David Hicks.
“The last time he saw me, he asked: ‘Have you got any news from David?’,” Kappelle says.
The Karaganda jail where Abdulla is held is where Nobel prize-winning novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which brought the Soviet prisons’ labour system to the world’s attention.
The last time Mr Kappelle visited, he vowed to get Abdulla moved.
“It’s crap where he is,” he says.
Mr Kappelle said Kazakhstan, in central Asia, took a hard line on terror suspects.
“I’ve made initial inquiries to try and get him shifted but it will be hard. If he was a murderer or a rapist, we might be able to get something done for him. But they take a particularly hard line on terrorists.”
Abdulla was sentenced a month after the September 11 attacks on New York. He was rounded up with dozens of other suspects for his links with a Uighur group accused of murdering two police officers. Uighurs are an oppressed separatist movement, but Kazakhstan authorities claim they are connected to Al-Qaeda. The Karaganda region is home to the world’s largest steel plant – and also has the highest AIDS rate in Kazakhstan.
The planes Mr Kappelle takes for his visits to the prison are so old, he says he could undo the fuselage with a pocket knife.
About 1000 prisoners room together in giant dormitories. Abdulla is allowed a few phone calls and visits each year.
Kazakhstan’s prisons are renowned for high levels of organised crime, and prisoners frequently make violent protests – such as slashing open their stomachs en masse – to protest the harsh conditions.