Former aid worker Steve Pratt, jailed in Yugoslavia by the Milosevic regime under suspicion of spying, has offered to mediate in the case of the two Australians arrested by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Mr Pratt, who is a Liberal candidate for the ACT Assembly, has appealed to the Saudi Arabian, Pakistani and Bosnian embassies in Canberra to intervene.
The Pakistanis, in particular, had an intimate link with the Taliban and could play an influential role in helping free Peter Bunch and Diana Thomas, who have been arrested for allegedly preaching Christianity, an offence that carries a maximum penalty of death or 20 years’ jail, he said.
He had offered to mediate, if necessary, hoping the Taliban regime would recognise him from the world-wide publicity surrounding his imprisonment in Yugoslavia.
“Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that I’m some crash-hot diplomat,” he said yesterday. “What I am, though, is an Australian who’s very well experienced in overseas emergencies, with a good understanding of Islam, with a good understanding of Middle-Eastern societies; somebody who’s been in captivity and understands the fear and concerns involved in all of that.
“And the thing that’s driving all of this is I had a lot of people putting out yellow ribbons and looking after me, and if I don’t make some effort then I don’t think it’s fair.”
He did not know the circumstances under which Mr Bunch and Ms Thomas had been arrested, but their actions could have been as innocent as leaving Bibles lying around the office where local staff were working, Mr Pratt said. It was most unlikely their group, Shelter Now International, would have deliberately violated local laws, and their arrest was probably the result of a misunderstanding.
Mr Pratt urged the Australian public to get behind the cause, as they had supported him.
He had received a response only from the Bosnian embassy, which had passed his letter on to the Taliban and opened diplomatic channels. He was very disappointed not to have heard back from the other embassies, nor from the Australian Islamic Federation.