Grave health fears for Australian jailed in Iraq

Grave health fears for Australian jailed in Iraq

There are grave fears for the health of an Australian man who is languishing in an overcrowded Baghdad jail, with doctors saying he needs urgent surgery to treat multiple suspected skin cancers.

Robert Pether, 47, who has been in jail since April of last year, was found guilty of trumped-up fraud charges by his family and legal team.

Pether and his Egyptian colleague, Khalid Zaghloul, have been exposed to torture techniques while being imprisoned by the United Nations, according to UN investigators.

Pether's family spent nine months trying to get him access to medical experts in Iraq after a photo of his back was sent to a doctor in Italy.

Pether's wife, Desree, told the ABC that his doctor was absolutely appalled at the state of him.

He has so many new moles on his back, he has a new mole on the same earlobe that he had a melanoma before, and it has changed significantly in the last few months.

It is showing the same aggressive behavior as the melanoma he had. He needs to have seven potential cancers cut out, but there is no guarantee that he can access the care he needs in Iraq.

She said that he looks 74, not 47, and he looks very frail, like a frail old man.

He is grey and his skin tone is grey.

There is a risk of post-operative infection when he's in a 14 foot cell with 22 other men. Pether's doctor has gone so far as to write to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Ms Pether said her husband was absolutely terrified about the situation, and his mental health was deteriorating.

She said he's in a dark place.

It's really hard to get in a situation where you have to talk him off of a ledge.

It's really difficult for our 19-year-old son to get off the phone and be in tears because of the way his dad is talking, and thinking that his father is going to do something drastic. Pether, an engineer, had been working on the construction of the new $1 billion Central Bank of Iraq CBI headquarters in Baghdad when he was arrested alongside his colleague Zaghloul.

In August of last year, an Iraqi court found the pair guilty of deception charges, which carried a $16 million fine and five years in jail.

Since then, the two men have been hit with further charges as CBI has tried to enforce further fines for delays in the project.

The case is going to be put off until later this month.

Ms Pether had been highly critical of the Morrison government's approach to her husband's case, saying her family felt abandoned.

She said there had been a difference in the approach of the new government.

It's chalk and cheese, Ms Pether said.

I'm hoping they're able to do something a little bit more significant in terms of trying to get him out. In June, Mr Albanese spoke to his Iraqi counterpart, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.

Sources told the ABC the matter was raised and an official transcript of the conversation from the Iraqi government did not mention Pether's case.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong has been contacted by the ABC for comment.

Last week, Labor MP Peter Khalil took to his feet in federal parliament to raise Pether's situation.

Robert's strain is terrible, but so is the pain of his family - the pain they've had to endure for over 16 months - his wife, Desree, and his children, Nala, Oscar and Flynn, he told the House of Representatives.

The family of Pether sold a property to help pay for Robert's legal fees, and I think a car as well. Robert and his family want him to return home safely.

His daughter, Nala, draws pictures of what she plans to do with Dad when he gets out and is back home. Desree tells me it's hard to keep the kids' and Robert's hopes up. Mr Khalil said diplomats were working around the clock on the case, and hoped the Iraqi government might grant him clemency because of his deteriorating health.