Sydney man Ahmed Jamal said he has been in jail in northern Iraq since September 2004, and was finally visited by Australia’s consul-general in Iraq, Alan Elliot, on February 27.
“We in part have been able to make contact with him because of representations made to representatives of the Iraqi people here in Australia,” Mr Howard told the Southern Cross Broadcasting network.
“He is in Kurdistan, the Kurdish part of Iraq, and we will continue to help him in every way we can.”
Mr Jamal was found to be in a distressed state, and said he had been badly mistreated by his captors after his arrest.
Canberra-based consular official Alex Fraser passed on details of Mr Jamal’s condition to the man’s father and lawyer, Stephen Kenny.
Asked if he had been tortured, Mr Howard said that has been alleged.
“We can’t substantiate that either way, obviously, but we are endeavouring to help him and obviously as an Australian citizen we will continue to do so,” he said.
“He’s in a country whose legal system at present, because of the circumstances of that country, does not operate the way ours does.”
Father Mahmoud Jamal told the Sydney Morning Herald that Mr Fraser said his son had been abused and tortured.
“They told me that he has a lot of rashes on his body and that he has lost his memory… His loss of memory is from torture and electricity,” he said.
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the newspaper that the government found out from the Red Cross about Mr Jamal’s detention in November 2004 on “security-related issues”.
Mr Jamal, then aged 22, travelled to Iraq in 2004, telling his family he was visiting the Middle East to see the region and find a bride.
DFAT said “extensive representations” were made to secure access to Mr Jamal, and the consular visit was delayed for such a long time due to logistical difficulties and the dangerous environment.
However lawyer Mr Kenny said this is unacceptable, pointing out that the prime minister and other dignitaries had visited Iraq in that time, as did AWB executives.