Lucy Popescu

Behrouz Boochani

Australia’s harsh treatment of asylum seekers has been widely condemned by international human rights groups and many of its citizens are vocal about the brutality of the system. Those seeking asylum in Australia are often traumatised people who have been tortured or have witnessed atrocities in their own countries and fear for their safety. They regularly find themselves locked up in mandatory detention for years, with no idea of when they will be released.

One victim of Australia’s uncompromising policy towards refugees is Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish Iranian journalist. Boochani has been held in Australia’s offshore Manus Island Regional Processing Centre, situated on Papua New Guinea, for over three years. Boochani is co-founder and editor of the Kurdish magazine Werya, and has also worked for several Iranian newspapers, including Kasbokar Weekly, Khanoon and Etemad, and for the Iranian Sports Agency. He has written on politics in the Middle East and interviewed prominent Kurdish figures in Tehran.

On 17 February 2013, officials from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps raided Werya’s offices and arrested eleven of Boochani’s colleagues, several of whom were subsequently imprisoned. Boochani himself went into hiding for three months. As a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the National Union of Kurdish Students, Boochani had already experienced years of threats, surveillance and interrogation for his writing and for teaching Kurdish culture and language.

Boochani fled Iran on 23 May 2013. Two months later, while attempting to cross from Indonesia to Australia, the boat he was travelling in was intercepted by the Australian navy and he was detained. Boochani claimed asylum in Australia, as was his right under Article 1 of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. He was taken to Christmas Island and then forcibly transferred to Manus Island in late August that year.

Manus Island is notorious for the ill-treatment of detainees – violence, sexual abuse and self-harm are reportedly common. But since 2014, when the Australian government introduced harsh penalties for state employees who disclose details about the administration of the Manus Island facility and other detention centres to the press, public scrutiny of these establishments has been made impossible.

On 26 April 2016, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea ruled that the processing centre was illegal and unconstitutional, since those seeking asylum in Australia were being forcibly brought into Papua New Guinea and held against their will. Boochani was accorded refugee status by Papua New Guinea immigration authorities in April 2016, even though he had refused to seek asylum there formally. Boochani maintains he has the right for his asylum request to be considered by the Australian immigration authorities.

He continues to write about Kurdish and Iranian politics, and some of his articles have been published on Kurdish websites in Iran, which places him at further risk should he ever be deported back there. Boochani has also published articles in the Australian and European media and has given many interviews. He is currently writing a book about his prison experiences and continues to campaign on behalf of himself and his fellow asylum seekers.

Without travel documents, Boochani cannot leave the island and the only way to reach the nearby town of Lorengau is on an official bus. The processing centre is out of bounds to the public as it is situated in a naval base. Refugees are routinely body-searched when they leave and return. As is the case with many asylum seekers, Boochani’s future is on hold indefinitely.

Boochani’s detention is in violation of international law, as affirmed in the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Australia is a state party. In September 2015, PEN and a coalition of human rights groups launched an international campaign on Boochani’s behalf, calling for his request for asylum to be processed by Australian immigration officials as soon as possible and urging the government to abide by its obligations to the principle of non-refoulement, as defined by Article 33 of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

Readers might like to send appeals urging the Australian authorities to urgently process Kurdish Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani’s asylum claim, in light of the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court’s ruling of 26 April; calling on them to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all those transferred to Australia’s offshore detention sites; and demanding that they end the offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and on Manus Island, in line with the recommendations of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and that they ensure that those detained are provided with adequate legal protection, in line with Australia’s obligations under international law.

Appeals to be sent to:

The Honourable Peter Dutton MP
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection
PO Box 6022, House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600, Australia
Email: peter.dutton.mp@aph.gov.au

The Honourable Malcolm Turnbull MP
Prime Minister of Australia
PO Box 6022, House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600, Australia
Contact: https://www.pm.gov.au/contact-your-pm

The Honourable Alexander Downer
Australian High Commission
The Strand, London WC2B 4LA
Fax: 020 7240 5333

Readers can also send solidarity messages to Boochani by emailing emma.wadsworth-jones@pen-international.org             

Chicago_Dec2016

Sara Stewart

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