Sydney: A second Muslim man has been charged in connection with an attack on a recent convert to Islam who was allegedly whipped 40 times as a religious punishment for drinking alcohol.
Wassim Fayad, 43, was freed on bail after being charged on Wednesday with aggravated breaking and entering with intent to commit an indictable offense. The same charges were laid against Tolga Cifci, 20, on Tuesday. Neither man has entered a plea.
In granting bail, Magistrate Tim Kebby ordered Fayad to stay away from the alleged victim, saying the attack was "quite particular, arising from religious motivation”.
The incident has created a furore in the Australian media, reflecting the friction caused by the expanding Islamic migrant community in a country whose citizens are predominantly of Christian European background.
Australia relaxed its immigration policies in 1973 when it opened its doors to nonwhites, attracting a flood of immigrants from Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard weighed into the debate on Wednesday, telling reporters there is no place for religious punishments in Australia.
"There is only one law in this country — the law of Australia. That's what binds us together and everybody has got to abide by that law," she said.
Fayad and Cifci are among four people who are accused of breaking into Christian Martinez's house on Sunday, holding him down on his bed and whipping him 40 times with an electric cord. The court was told that Martinez, a recent convert to Islam, was targeted for "religious reasons”.
Islamic Sharia laws, which prohibit alcohol, recommend whipping as a punishment for several offenses.
No trial date has been set pending investigations. If convicted, the two could face up to 20 years in prison.
Martinez, 31, was allegedly whipped for 30 minutes but did not need hospitalisation. Local media have reported that the alleged attackers attended the same mosque as Martinez, and administered the lashing as a punishment for going to a pub.
Cifci, a Muslim, was born and raised in Australia. Fayad's background is not immediately known, except that he is married and has six children.
In an interview with community forum MuslimVillage.com published on Wednesday, Martinez said he had a drinking problem that he has been trying to overcome. He said he was drinking on the day of the alleged attack, which he said was "about some individuals, not religion”.
He said one of the attackers was a friend. "I will never forgive him but I guess Allah will judge him ... and Allah can forgive him," said Martinez, who converted to Islam about three years ago.
He described Islam as a "a beautiful religion”, which helped him get through his past. "I mean, I'm not perfect ... and now I believe I'm a better person because of Islam," he said.
He also said the "mainstream media" had been hounding him and had offered him money to tell his story, which he rejected.
"I feel like a victim twice over," he said.
First Published: Thursday, July 21, 2011, 08:58