Returned ‘ISIS Wife’ Pleads Guilty to Entering and Remaining in a ‘Declared Land’

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A New South Wales woman has pleaded guilty and will be sentenced for willingly entering and staying in Syria to be with her husband, who is accused of being a member of the declared terrorist organisation Islamic State.

Australian citizen Mariam Raad was one of four women and 13 children repatriated from the Syrian Roj camp to Sydney in October 2022. Each of the women’s husbands are now believed to be deceased. 

Repatriated then prosecuted

The Australian Government’s decision to repatriate the women was made after the consideration of a range of competing factors, including national security concerns on the one hand and the welfare of the women and their willingness to cooperate with law enforcement authorities on the other.

The women had hoped not to be criminally prosecuted over their alleged conduct, returning to Australia while the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution was still considering whether or not to do so.

Ms Raad was charged in January 2023, three months after returning to Australia and pleaded guilty in Goulburn Local Court on 13 March 2024 to the Criminal Code Act offence.

She is now facing a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Facts being negotiated

 Through her guilty plea, Ms Raad has admitted to willingly travelling to Syria to join her husband Muhammad Zahab in 2014 and being aware of his membership of a terrorist organisation. 

However, the defence and prosecution are yet to agree on a statement of facts to be handed-up to the court, and a psychological report is yet to be prepared.

She is currently at liberty on bail and the prosecution has accepted she does not pose a threat to the community.

What is a ‘declared area’?

Section 119.3 of the Criminal Code Act 1995  empowers the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs to make a declaration to the effect that an area is a  ‘declared area’ for the purposes of Commonwealth laws.

In making that determination, the Minister must be satisfied that a listed terrorist organisation is engaging in a hostile activity in that area and will depend heavily on advice from law enforcement agencies.

The offence of entering or remaining in, a ‘declared area’ of a foreign country

Section 119.2 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 makes it an offence for an Australian person to enter, or remain in, a ‘declared area’ of a foreign country, which is punishable by a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. 

To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:

  1. You entered or remained in an area of a foreign country,
  2. The area was declared by the Foreign Minister under 119.3 of the Act, and
  3. You were an Australian citizen or resident, held an Australian visa or voluntarily put yourself under Australia’s protection.

You are not guilty of the offence if you establish ‘on the balance of probabilities’ that you entered the area solely for one or more of the following purposes:

  • Providing aid of a humanitarian nature,
  • Satisfying an obligation to appear before a court or other body exercising judicial power,
  • Performing an official duty for the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory,
  • Performing an official duty for the government of a foreign country or the government of part of a foreign country (including service in the armed forces of the government of a foreign country), where that performance would not be a violation of the law of the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory,
  • Performing an official duty for the United Nations, or an agency of the United Nations, or the International Committee of the Red Cross,
  • Making a news report of events in the area, where the person is working in a professional capacity as a journalist or is assisting another person working in a professional capacity as a journalist,
  • Making a bona fide visit to a family member, or
  • Any other purpose prescribed by the regulations.

The offence also does not apply to those in the area solely in the course of service in the armed forces of the government of a foreign country, and any armed force declared as excluded.

Going to court?

If you have been charged with a criminal offence, call Sydney Criminal Lawyers today on (02) 9261 8881 to arrange a consultation with an experienced lawyer from Australia’s most awarded criminal law firm, who will assess your case, advise you of your options and the best way forward, and fight to achieve the best possible result.

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Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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