Melbourne teen guilty of weapons offence may sue over ‘terrorist’ label

Police raided five homes in relation to the planned Anzac Day terror attacks in April. Photo: Eddie JimThe lawyer for a Melbourne man linked by police to an Islamic State-inspired attack on Anzac Day says his client will consider defamation action after being labelled a terrorist despite not being charged with terror-related offences.
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Charlie Atlas, the lawyer for Mehran Azami​, said his client had potentially been defamed by media outlets internationally – including The Wall Street Journal – as it had repeatedly been insinuated that he was a terrorist.

Azami, 19, pleaded guilty to weapons-related offences in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Monday.

Mr Atlas also questioned whether authorities are being heavy-handed with young Muslim men because they are under political pressure to justify the vast resources allocated to counter-terrorism.

Mr Atlas – a former NSW police officer – said this approach undermined the effort some police put into building trust within the Islamic community.

He said the media had reinforced the perception that young Muslim men were predisposed to terrorism through reporting bias.

The Brunswick-based lawyer said he sympathised with an infamous 2011 quote from a Melbourne Racing Club official that he would rather his children be “hit men or prostitutes” than certain journalists.

The official later apologised for the slur.

“Ultimately it’s up to Mr Azami but I will be strongly recommending he takes up a claim regarding defamation,” Mr Atlas said.

“There is no evidence he was involved in any terror related activity, and he was never charged with terrorism-related offences.

“But because he was arrested at the same time as others, and may have given one of them a knife, he’s called a terrorist.”

Mr Atlas said Azami and his family had been treated poorly by police when their Narre Warren home was raided on April 18, and the behaviour of police since had been even more troubling.

Azami was admitted to hospital to receive treatment for mental health concerns in the days after the raids.

On April 27, Mr Atlas said he spoke to a detective and the pair agreed that Azami would attend a police station for a formal interview with a legal representative after he was discharged from hospital.

Mr Atlas said the detective attended the hospital three days later, arrested Azami, and took him to a police station. He was charged with further offences and had an application for bail denied.

Azami’s lawyers were not told he had even been discharged from hospital.

“You already have a siege mentality among the majority of Muslims when it comes to police, and then you have police doing things out of the ordinary, how do you think that makes the community feel?

“It was unorthodox, and it was unethical, but it’s not a breach of the law.

“It’s not that I have any animosity to police myself, I’m an ex-copper and there’s a lot of police who do very good work, but there’s also incompetent or malicious police who seek to get a conviction at any cost.”

Mr Atlas was asked by Victoria Police legal services to remove the name of the detective who arrested Azami from a Facebook post because of concerns the officer could be subject to a revenge attack.

He said the request smacked of irony, given it was Muslims who lived in constant fear of being targeted by police.

Police have previously alleged in court that Azami imported more than 200 weapons between May last year and April and that he provided some to associates Sevdet Ramadan Besim​ and Harun Causevic​, who have been charged with conspiring to commit a terrorist act.

Police allege Mr Besim and Mr Causevic, both 18, planned to run down a police officer on Anzac Day with a car, behead the officer with a knife and then seize the officer’s gun.

Mr Besim, Mr Causevic, Azami and two other teens were arrested by counter-terrorism police during raids across Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs on April 18.

The other two were released without charge.

Magistrate Charlie Rozencwajg​ remanded Azami to appear before the County Court on October 22. There was no application for bail.

– with Adam Cooper

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