A Sydney woman who refused to stand in court, citing her Islamic faith, has become the first person to be charged under the state’s new “disrespectful behaviour” laws.
Moutia Elzahed, the wife of convicted jihadi recruiter Hamdi Alqudsi, refused to stand before the presiding judge when she attempted to sue police over a raid on the family home in Revesby.
She instructed her barrister to inform the NSW District Court she would not stand for anyone but Allah.
On Monday, Elzahed was ordered to appear in Downing Centre Local Court on June 15 on nine counts of “disrespectful behaviour in court”.
The charge was introduced by the NSW Government in September last year following a spate of cases where defendants refused to stand in court, saying it was against their religious beliefs.
If convicted, Elzahed faces a maximum fine of $1,100 or 14 days in jail.
Under the new law, a person is guilty of an offence if they “intentionally engage in behaviour in the court … (that) is disrespectful to the court or the judge presiding over the proceedings”.
The official court transcript can be used as evidence and the judge presiding over the proceedings in which the alleged disrespectful behaviour occurred cannot be required to give evidence.
Elzahed’s civil case, in which she claimed she and her family had been assaulted by police, was thrown out when she refused to remove her niqab while giving evidence, unless all the men in the courtroom looked away.
NSW District Court judge Audrey Balla said she needed to see the witness’ face to help assess whether their evidence was credible.
Elzahed declined an offer to be allowed to give evidence from a separate room or to have the courtroom closed to everyone except legal representatives.
Her husband is serving a six-year jail sentence for helping young Australians travel to Syria to join militant groups fighting in the Syrian civil war.