The case of an Australian mother and TV news crew at the centre of the botched “child rescue” in Lebanon has taken another unexpected turn, with presiding Judge Rami Abdullah telling media, “There is no way the charges will be dropped.”
According to reports from the Sydney Morning Herald, Abdullah continued, “There was a violation of the Lebanese authority by all these people, it’s a crime.”
Sally Faulkner travelled to Lebanon to bring her two children home allegedly assisted by a 60 Minutes team led by reporter Tara Brown.
But the plan went south, and Faulkner and the journalists were arrested and charged with kidnapping.
The judge in the case has since indicated that he did not view the situation as kidnapping, rather he saw it as a custody dispute.
That could change what charges Queensland mum Sally Faulkner faces, and could also affect the situation of Australian journalists arrested alongside her.
Having been arrested on kidnaping charges last week, the future for the team, which also includes producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment, remains unclear.
On Wednesday Faulkner was questioned by the judge in the presence of her estranged husband, Ali el-Amien a second time.
The ABC is reporting that her lawyer said the judge was pressuring the parents to reach a custody agreement that could enable Faulkner’s release.
But the negotiation could lead to Faulkner having to agree to her children living in Lebanon. The ABC reports that Faulkner’s ex-husband is reluctant to make a deal.
Judge Rami Abdullah has adjourned the case until Monday, with all defendants set to remain temporarily jailed until then.
Meanwhile the 60 Minutes team have spoken out about the conditions they face in jail.
“Quite genuinely we are being treated well by the standards here,” Tara Brown has said from her prison cell.
Having appeared before a judge yesterday, Brown continued, “It’s fine, it’s not crowded.”
Still, the cold, dark and confined cells of Baabda Prison must be a far cry from the world award-winning Brown and her 60 Minutes team know from their every day life in Australia.
Faulkner's two young children Lahela and Noah. Source: Change.org.
Trouble began for the Australian crew when a mission to recover two young children failed.
Faulkner with her two young children before they were separated.
“It really is quite hard to gauge at the moment what is happening so we are going through a process, we’ll see,” she said.
Speaking with News Corp from her cell, Brown also said the team have been granted visitation rights, with friends and colleagues visiting throughout the past few days.
One of the team is said to be very sick, but it is not yet known who.
The team are said to be working with a local lawyer to secure their release, but predictions on the penalties the group may face range from begging a court judge for forgiveness to 20 years hard labour.
Sitting around 11km outside the city centre of Beirut, Baabda Prison was designed to house a mere 70 inmates, but like many prisons around the world, overcrowding can be an issue.
Showers are taken in a group block, with no doors, curtains or other forms of privacy.
The cells where inmates sleep and pass the time are just 20 square metres in size and are home to multiple inmates.
The water is not always clean and the food is rarely fresh.
Author and former Baabda Prison inmate Joelle Giappesi wrote about the experience in her memoir Les Murs Ne Font Pas Le Prison (The Walls Don’t Make The Jail), saying that blackmail, corruption and betrayal amongst prisoners are rife.
It is being claimed by Lebanese media this CCTV footage captures the moment the children were taken from their grandmother. Post continues after video...
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also given assurances his government is giving "every support" it can.
"Of course we respect the Lebanese legal system and their right to investigate and take proceedings if they feel offences have been committed," he told reporters.
"But we support Australians who find themselves in these difficulties and these circumstances right around the world and of course we're doing that with respect to the 60 Minutes crew in Beirut at the moment."