A rogue Afghan soldier who shot dead three Australians is being transferred to a detention centre in Qatar, in a worrying sign he may be released in the coming weeks under a peace agreement with the Taliban.
The move prompted Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds to again urge the United States and Afghanistan not to release the prisoner, saying he should serve out his full sentence.
Hekmatullah shot dead three Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.
Senator Payne and Senator Reynolds said the former sergeant in the Afghan National Army, known as Hekmatullah, killed three off-duty Australian soldiers in 2012 “in a cold-blooded crime of betrayal”.
"We understand Hekmatullah will be held in detention in Qatar with five other highly sensitive prisoners," they said.
"These six prisoners were convicted of killing Coalition soldiers, or civilian humanitarian workers, in a series of insider attacks. The government of Qatar has undertaken to the government of Afghanistan and to the United States to keep these detainees confined and isolated."
Senator Payne and Senator Reynolds said the Australian government had "steadfastly maintained" to both the Afghan and US governments that Hekmatullah must not be released.
"We have communicated our position repeatedly and consistently and at the highest level to the government of Afghanistan, which is solely responsible for his custody, and to the United States," they said.
"Australia is not the only country that objects to the release of this most dangerous group of prisoners. Other countries, including France, have joined calls for dangerous criminals not to be released.
"Australia is not a party to the intra-Afghan negotiations, nor the US-Taliban discussions. We are not standing in the way of peace talks.
"Australia appreciates that the Afghan government, in making the decision to move the prisoners to Qatar, is doing its best to recognise and respect the concerns of the countries that want to see justice served."
While the Afghan government has played a role in deciding which prisoners are to be released, it was not a party to the original peace deal between the US and the Taliban signed on February 29, 2020, which included a commitment to release 5000 prisoners.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has appealed directly to US President Donald Trump and Afghanistan’s President, Ashraf Ghani, expressing his concerns about releasing Hekmatullah.
Hekmatullah has spent seven years in jail after killing Lance Corporal Stjepan Milosevic, Sapper James Martin and Private Robert Poate in August 2012 while they were playing cards. He fled the base after shooting the three unarmed Diggers and injuring two others, but was captured in late 2013 and sentenced to death for the attack.
Senator Payne and Senator Reynolds said the transfer of Hekmatullah and the five other prisoners from Afghanistan to a detention facility in Qatar was a measure decided by the Afghan and US governments "as a means of facilitating the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations, scheduled to begin on 12 September, while keeping the prisoners detained".
"The Australian government's long-standing position is that Hekmatullah should serve a full custodial sentence for the crimes for which he was convicted by an Afghan court and that he should not be released as part of a prisoner amnesty," they said.
"Australia has communicated this position clearly to the Afghan government and has not provided any authorisation for Hekmatullah's release as part of any arrangement with the Afghan government. We will continue to advocate our position robustly, wherever he is being held.
"Justice and peace are not incompatible. Both have a place in peace arrangements."
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