Landmark fight over women's rights in public

Bryan Seymour

FIRST ON 7: An Islamist group has been accused of sexual discrimination for making women sit at the back of public meetings.

The radical political party Hizb ut-Tahrir insists it is their choice, but one woman says she was told to move to the back or leave.

Freelance journalist Alison Bevege took her case to the Anti-Discrimination Board on Wednesday afternoon.

"When I walked in I was immediately directed by one of the representatives of the organisers to sit in the back half of the room," Ms Bevege told 7News.

"I just don't want to be told to go to the back of the room because I'm a female, who does that?"

Hizb ut-Tahrir promotes a global Islamic caliphate to govern everyone.

The group has been banned in several countries.

At the weekend, 300,000 rallied in Indonesia for their Khalifa Conference.

They also hold regular public events in western Sydney, including the one Alison attended in October last year.

Bilal Merhi leads boys as young as six in extremist chants at Hizb ut-Tahrir youth group.

"The choice was quite clear, you either sit at the back or your only other option is to leave, so I didn't have any choice in the matter," Ms Bevege said.

In the last six months, 7News has attended several similar events in western Sydney. Each time, we observed attendees being told "brothers to the front, sisters to the back".

Now, their right to segregate men and women at public events is before the Anti-Discrimination Board.

This is not a story about religion, it is about discrimination.

Of course, you can do as you please in your home or your church, but if you hold a public meeting, we are all bound by the same, single set of laws.

"It's a public event, it's advertised, she turns up, she attends, and if, as she says, she was told to sit separately then that's what the law says, you can't do it," ANU College of Law Professor Simon Rice said.

The group has claims "it was a mere request, however, it was open to her to sit anywhere she wanted."

Hizb ut-Tahrir leader, Ismael Alwahwah, said Alison should not expect that "her view of what is right and wrong should be enforced on others".

Ms Bevege is asking for $100,000 compensation to give to charity, and an apology.

"I've never seen a public event that tries to separate men and women and then say that it's not discriminatory," Professor Simon Rice said.

Hizb ut-Tahrir were a no show on Wednesday.

The matter will continue next month.