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Australian Muslim community joins 'Human Shield'
in appeal for the release of captives in Iraq

6 January 2006

Australia's Muslim community has joined forces with former 'human shield' and aid worker in Iraq, Donna Mulhearn, to make a direct appeal on Al Jazeera television to the kidnappers of four members of the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) still held hostage in Iraq after five weeks.

Briefly held captive by insurgents in Fallujah last year, Ms Mulhearn had worked alongside three of four CPT members during her periods as a humanitarian aid worker in Baghdad.

She is particularly close friends with Harmeet Sooden, 32, a student at Auckland University, New Zealand. The others being held are James Loney (Canada), Tom Fox (USA) and Norman Kember (UK).

Ms Mulhearn is joined on the Al-Jazeera broadcast by Keysar Trad, representing the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia. It is scheduled to be screened on Al Jazeera in a prime time slot in the next 24-hours.

"We want those who have Harmeet, Jim, Tom and Norman to know that they are friends of Iraq and came to help Iraqis," Ms Mulhearn said.

"We know them well. We have seen them at work; we have witnessed their commitment to Iraq and their desire for the occupation to end."

Mr Trad said the CPT in Baghdad does outstanding work on the issue of the human rights of Iraqi detainees and their families.

"CPT has been drawing attention to the abuse of Iraqis held in prison without charge for a long time and has helped the media and other organisations become aware of the situation," he said.

"They have helped so many Iraqi families through the pain of having loved ones go missing. They have been able to find information about their whereabouts and help re-unite families."

Ms Mulhearn said three of the four have also been active in Palestine.

"I was with Harmeet Sooden in Palestine this time last year. He is a peaceful man committed to helping those who are suffering under occupation," she said.

"Harmeet worked very hard during his time in Palestine to help the Palestinian people in any way he could. He learned a lot about the suffering of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation and that's one reason he decided to go to Iraq, to learn more about the life of Iraqis under US occupation.

"He wanted to help Iraqis to reveal the truth about the situation, so that other people around the world would understand their suffering.

"He said he wanted to see the end the US occupation of Iraq, so the Iraqi people could be free.

"We hope that those who are holding the four can release them soon so that they can continue their good work."

Mr Trad said taking friends of Iraq hostage is contrary to the tradition of Arab and Islamic chivalry and hospitality.

"It strengthens the case of the enemies of the Iraqi people who are trying to maintain the occupation.

"I appeal to those holding Harmeet, Jim, Tom and Norman to release them unharmed forthwith." Mr Trad said.

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