KALARU resident Martin Hodgson has been acknowledged for his dedication to helping others in need.
Mr Hodgson, 32, has been announced as a finalist in the individual category of the 25th annual Human Rights Awards.
According to the awards’ website, the Community Individual Award – Tony Fitzgerald Memorial Award is for an individual with a “proven track record in promoting and advancing human rights in the Australian community on a not-for-profit basis”.
Mr Hodgson has spent the past decade working as a senior advocate at the Foreign Prisoner Support Service.
Otherwise known as Save-A-Life, this is a free of charge community-based organisation that provides prison advocacy services to families whose loved ones are interned in foreign countries.
Mr Hodgson is one of four nominees in his category and is comfortably the youngest.
The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony on December 10 at Hilton Grand Ballroom, Sydney.
Mr Hodgson is attending the event, which will be hosted by The Chaser’s Craig Reucassell.
He said it will be a great opportunity to meet new people and make connections for the future.
Mr Hodgson said he was shocked to be nominated.
“It was a real surprise, it’s not something that I expected,” Mr Hodgson said.
“It’s good recognition for myself and the organisation.
“My work is very exciting, but I put in a lot of hours and it’s very stressful.”
However, Mr Hodgson said the major winners were his clients.
“Any acknowledgement is for the pain of clients, the victims of torture, the falsely accused – it’s validation.”
Mr Hodgson’s role includes helping Australian people imprisoned overseas, kidnapping cases, and educating the broader community of potential risks when travelling.
Mr Hodgson, who does the alot of his work from his Kalaru home, said he deals with around 200 cases each year, ranging from minor offences through to helping clients fight the death penalty.
“Quite often it’s wrong place, wrong time,” he said.
“Some cases are very difficult, some are much easier – I have been working on one case for nine years.”
Mr Hodgson fell into the field almost by luck while studying at university in 2002.
An Australian man had been arrested and was being tortured in a Kazakhstan prison.
The victim’s family approached Mr Hodgson because “no-else was helping”.
Although he had no previous experience, Mr Hodgson said he had always been interested in international law and policy, and conflict resolution.
Mr Hodgson said he was successful in lobbying the government to help the man, who was eventually able to return to Australia.
After completing a few more cases, Save-A-Life offered him a position, and he said “things snowballed from there”.
“I jumped into the deep end at a very young age,” Mr Hodgson said.
“It was a way that I could help real people and real families in tough situations.”
Mr Hodgson’s biggest case was soon to follow – almost single-handledly helping Tallaal Aldrey avoid the death penalty.
Following 9/11, Mr Aldrey was one of 36 men arrested in Kuwait, wrongly accused of terrorism, Mr Hodgson said.
In 2006, Mr Hodgson noticed the case and learnt no-one wanted to become involved.
“No-one was helping – I couldn’t abandon this guy.”
Mr Hodgson said some of the men were killed, while others were tortured in a Kuwait prison.
Mr Hodgson was able to organise a Kuwait doctor to visit Mr Aldrey, where it was confirmed he had been tortured.
The case was taken to the country’s Supreme Court where he was “not found guilty of anything”, Mr Hodgson said.
“And all of this was done from little old Kalaru,” he said.
Mr Hodgson said it was a satisfying case to complete.
“It confirmed that something can be done – it just takes that little bit of hard work.”
Mr Hodgson said it was an example of the government’s lack of support for those in trouble overseas.
“Australian citizens, as taxpayers, are entitled to it,” he said.
According to Mr Hodgson, many people weren’t aware of the costs involved if arrested overseas.
He said families could pay up to $10,000 just providing food for a victim in some prisons.
“It’s very expensive and it’s not covered by travel insurance,” Mr Hodgson said.
“People are not aware, they just don’t know.”
After moving to the Valley when he was four years old, Mr Hodgson grew up in the local area.
Mr Hodgson said he had dealt with a few cases involving Bega Valley residents, but all were resolved successfully.
He said with overseas kidnapping cases on the rise, residents in rural areas dealt with these situations better than their city counterparts.
“Our best ally is often Rural Press and local papers because everyone knows the person,” he said.
“They are more willing to run these stories, which puts pressure on the government.
“Everyone’s naive to these situations, it’s the reaction that counts – people in country areas can be proud of themselves.”