The 27-year-old former rapper from Melbourne had been facing a 15-year jail term, but was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years.
Zeynep Bilginsoy reports from Kilis, Turkey
A Turkish court has convicted Melbourne-born Neil Prakash of being a member of terrorist organisation, sentencing him to nearly eight years in prison but his lawyer said he could be out much sooner.
In his final defence before the verdict, Prakash said in Turkish: “I repented from IS, I used to be a member but I no longer am.” He joined Friday’s hearing via video link from a maximum security prison in the city of Gaziantep, near the Turkey-Syria border.
Prakash gained infamy after appearing in IS propaganda videos. A 12-minute video called “The Story of Abu Khaled al-Cambodi from Australia” was released in 2015 where Prakash, using an assumed name and dressed in combat gear, called Australian Muslims to “wake up” and launch attacks.
A bespectacled Prakash wearing a black jumper said: “I was forced into making those photos and videos, I did not want to.”
The former rapper has also been linked to several attack plans in Australia and has urged lone wolf attacks on the United States.
The Australian government has asserted that Prakash was a top recruiter for the extremist group and he was put on a US kill list. He was thought to have been killed in a US airstrike on Mosul on 2016 before he re-emerged in Turkey.
According to the prosecutor’s investigation, Prakash first arrived in Turkey in October 2013 and crossed to Syria where he joined IS. Three years later, he was caught while attempting to illegally cross into Turkey and told security forces his name was Piseth Doung.
Sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in jail
Resat Davran, Prakash’s bar-appointed lawyer, told the court that Prakash claimed to have gone to Syria to learn about Islam and help people but fled upon understanding that IS was a terror group. He requested that his client be acquitted and released.
Prakash was on trial for “membership in a terror organization,” with a sentence up to 15 years. The court in Kilis province, bordering Syria, sentenced him to nine years but decreased it to seven-and-a-half years with discretionary mitigation.
The judge said he could serve 22 months less for good behaviour in prison and the time Prakash has already spent incarcerated since October 2016 would be counted towards the sentence.
Speaking to SBS News after the trial, Davran said they expected this decision but would appeal with a higher court and try a further reduction through a Turkish law on “effective repentance.” The law requires a suspect to express genuine remorse and provide intelligence.
Prakash told the court “I am very regretful” and Davran said his client had already given information on the group.
The lawyer said: “he can leave prison after two, two-and-a-half years,” even without the appeal.
Could be housed in a repatriation centre upon release
It remains unclear where Prakash would go when he is released from prison.
In December, Australia revoked his citizenship, which can only be done if the person also holds citizenship from another country.
The 27-year-old is of Fijian-Cambodian descent but is not a citizen of Fiji, according to authorities there.
Home Minister Peter Dutton rejected suggestions that the decision left Prakash stateless, saying he strongly believed he should “rot in jail in Turkey.”
Prakash’s Turkish lawyer said: “Our country cannot deport stateless people.” Davran suggested “it’s possible that he would have to be housed in a repatriation centre once he’s released from prison.”
Friday’s verdict brings an end to hearings over 17 months in the small Kilis penal court. In 2017, the court began trying Prakash on Australia’s extradition request to stand trial at home where he could face a life sentence. The court in July rejected that demand and prosecutors indicted him on terror charges.
Australian diplomats and journalists attended the hearing. There were no family members present but the lawyer said Prakash speaks to his mother every Thursday.