David Murray -
May 27, 2007 12:00am
A BRISBANE man convicted of murder in Sudan and being held in hellish prison conditions has been granted an appeal.
The Federal Government said George Forbes, 46, was also given permission to have medical treatment for a serious kidney condition, and is expected to be moved out of unsanitary jail conditions to a hospital.
The developments follow Australian diplomatic representations on behalf of Forbes, a construction engineer who was working in the region for a private Kenyan aid and development company.
He is expected to take his appeal to court soon, Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Greg Hunt said.
Forbes was being held in a jail with little shelter from the elements and regular outbreaks of disease, and his family were afraid it would kill him.
Forbes and three Trax International construction company colleagues were awaiting sentence for the murder of a Ukranian flight engineer from a separate firm at Rumbek, in southern Sudan. They were convicted on Monday despite a post-mortem examination finding the man committed suicide.
Forbes's and his colleagues have been held with 400 other prisoners in Rumbek's jail, believed to have been constructed by the British in the 1950s.
The inmates are allowed to gather in the jail's dusty square courtyard, which has a solitary tree, during the day. They are locked in cramped cells at night.
"There's no beds, no mattresses, no pillows. You're allowed a sheet and that's it," Forbes's brother-in-law Orson Taylor said.
"George said they sleep like sardines. They're pressed up against one another, and if one person rolls the whole lot have to roll.
"Once you are locked in at night there is no access to toilets, and other prisoners are defecating and urinating on the floor."
Fierce fighting in the area had caused major damage to the prison.
The lack of roofing on some cells means prisoners are not protected from the region's harsh weather, which includes soaring daytime temperatures of 37C in the shade.
"George's co-accused were saying it gets so hot there you can't sleep until about 3am, when the concrete has cooled down enough for you to lie on it. Then obviously you're up at 7am as soon as the heat starts again.
"When the rain comes it's a torrential downpour. I've never seen anything like it.
"You end up with about six inches (15cm) of water in the prison cells and the prisoners basically lie in that."
Mr Forbes's family have been providing the four colleagues with fresh food and water, but other prisoners survive on a diet of 1kg of ground beans a day.
Mr Hunt said yesterday he had a phone conversation overnight with Australia's Ambassador to Egypt, Bob Bowker, who was in Rumbek providing consular assistance to Forbes.
Southern Sudan has temporary recognition as an autonomous region and its own government structure separate from the capital, Khartoum.
Mr Hunt said Forbes had gratefully accepted an offer of legal help from high-profile Melbourne criminal-law barristers Lex Lazry, QC, and Julian McMahon.
The Federal Government has offered to cover the costs of Forbes's lawyers travelling to Sudan.
"(Mr Bowker) met with the Vice-President, the Foreign Minister, the Minister for the Interior and the Minister for Justice (in the Southern Sudan Government), as well as the President of the Court of Appeal, and Mr Forbes, so he's been pretty busy," Mr Hunt said.
"The result of that is that the case is being immediately transferred from the court of first instance to the court of appeal.
"Obviously we're cautious about the outcome, but we do think it's an extremely positive development."
Mr Hunt added that the Government was "extremely hopeful" Forbes would be moved to a Christian or UN hospital: "We will . . . do everything we possibly can to help Mr Forbes in both his legal case and in protecting and preserving his health."