Australia: Appeal to free detainee receiving threats

Petition to bring Iranian asylum seeker from offshore prison to Australia made by advocates after his life threatened.

Manus Island
A photo of the refugee prison on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island [Andrew Thomas/Al Jazeera]

A politician filed a petition with 18,000 signatures on Thursday to have an asylum seeker receiving death threats at an offshore detention centre brought to Australia after he testified in a murder case.

Kurdish Iranian Behnam Satah said he witnessed the killing of his friend Reza Barati two years ago at the prison Australia uses on Manus Island, in neighbouring Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Last September, he testified against those accused of the murder, but that decision has come at a high cost to his mental and physical health.

Satah, 30, has received death threats, been threatened with rape, and periodically imprisoned in the notorious “Chauka” prison cells on the island.

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He has subsequently been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression.

On Thursday, politician Melissa Parke presented the petition to the federal parliament that called on the Australian government to accept its international obligations and bring Satah to Australia where he’ll be safe.

“The ABF [Australian Border Force] has stated that Mr Satah’s safety is a matter for Papua New Guinea … In fact, the PNG government does not run the Manus camp. It is run by contractors hired and paid for by Australia. Australia cannot contract out its international legal responsibilities,” said Parke.

Repeated attempts for comment from immigration authorities were unsuccessful.

In July 2013, the Australian government decided that asylum seekers who tried to come to Australia by boat should instead be deported to Papua New Guinea or the Pacific island Nauru to be held in refugee processing centres.

It said that the move was a deterrent to keep people from making the dangerous and often deadly sea journey to Australia.

Locked up

Satah and Reza Barati were close friends. The men had met in Indonesia, bonding over their shared linguistic and cultural heritage. Both were Kurds from Iran and both had chosen to flee their homeland. They travelled together by boat, attempting to reach Australia and claim asylum.

Instead the men ended up imprisoned on Manus Island, an offshore processing centre for asylum seekers paid for by Australia but under the legal jurisdiction of PNG.

“Do you know how much it hurts to see people kill your friend and you wouldn’t be able to defend or do anything?” Satah told Al Jazeera from Manus Island.

“I testified against two locals [from PNG] and their family and relatives work at the centre. They were saying ‘we will kill you’ and draw gesture with their thumb across their neck. I am very frightened. I have seen how easily they kill,” he said.

Dr Barri Phatarfod is the convener of the medical advocacy group Doctors 4 Refugees, and has reviewed Satah’s medical records.

A view of the refugee prison on Manus [Andrew Thomas/Al Jazeera] 
A view of the refugee prison on Manus [Andrew Thomas/Al Jazeera] 

A worker at the Manus facility, who cannot be identified for fear of repercussions, confirmed to Al Jazeera the threats made against Satah’s life.

“Behnam feels like he is under constant surveillance,” he said. “He has received death threats from PNG guards and local people either verbally or subtle gestures of a finger moving across their throat.”

Satah has been subjected to arbitrary punishment since witnessing Barati’s killing, the worker said.

In January 2015, during a hunger strike by asylum seekers on the island, Satah and a friend were accused of “inciting a riot”. Both were sent to Chauka, the prison-like holding centre on the island where detainees are kept in solitary confinement.

“Chauka was a collection of three shipping containers inside an off-site compound, away from most staff,” the worker recounted. “Behnam was confined for a number of days in a small space without air-conditioning or a fan.”

According to Phatarfod, Satah’s mental and physical health is being compromised by not being removed from the Manus detention centre.

“If something happens to this man, whether he’s killed on the island or by his own hand, the Australian government will not be able to say they were not warned. The only reason he has not been strung up and killed is because some remote authority in Canberra has just a little bit of control over the situation.”

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Source: Al Jazeera