Australian refugee advocates and opposition politicians have condemned the conviction of an Iranian asylum seeker on charges of attempted suicide, a criminal offence in Nauru where he is being held in an Australian-run detention centre.
Under Australia’s tough immigration policy, asylum seekers attempting to reach the country by boat are intercepted and sent to camps on the South Pacific island nation of Nauru, about 3,000km northeast of Australia, or on Manus island in Papua New Guinea to the north.
The Iranian man, who is the sole guardian of his eight-year-old daughter in the detention centre, pleaded guilty to the offence of attempted suicide, according to a Nauru government statement.
He was reportedly ordered to pay a fine of $155.
The Nauru government said prosecutors wanted to “deter other would-be offenders who resort to self-harm to avoid lawful actions against them or to get what they want”.
“We are concerned that this method of protest is being used and want to stamp out this practice,” it said.
Human rights groups, including the UN Refugee Agency, have criticised the harsh conditions at the detention centers, which have sparked riots and self-harm protests.
Barri Phatarfod of Doctors for Refugees decried the case as “outrageous” because the man was not provided with access to a doctor or psychiatrist, despite the government’s promises to do so.
“When they wanted to make an example of this man after he had done this self-harm attempt by taking him off to jail, where he spent close to three weeks, they didn’t care for the eight-year-old girl,” she told Al Jazeera.
“So, she was effectively left to fend for herself,” she said, adding that refugees are not being given equal treatment to Australians before the law. “Nowhere in Australia would you see anything like that happen.”
Australia’s Greens opposition party has been a long-time critic of Australia’s offshore detention policy.
“We’ve left them there languishing, destroyed all hope of ever coming to Australia, This poor guy wanted to take his own life and he is now being punished for that,” Greens politician Sarah Hanson-Young told Australia’s Sky News on Saturday.
The number of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia is small compared with those arriving in Europe, but border security has long been a topic of heated political debate.
Offshore detention is supported by both Australia’s conservative government and main opposition Labor party. A national election is expected to be called within months.