10 November 2016: RAN 21/16
AUSTRALIA: Process Kurdish Iranian journalist’s asylum claim
PEN International urges the Australian government to process the asylum claim of Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish Iranian journalist. Boochani has been held in Australia’s offshore Manus Island Regional Processing Centre (MIRPC), Papua New Guinea (PNG) for over three years. Boochani fled Iran on 23 May 2013. In July of that year, he and fellow asylum seekers were intercepted by the Australian Navy en route from Indonesia, and he asked for asylum in Australia, as was his right under Article 1 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, as amended by the 1967 Protocol. He was taken to Christmas Island, Australia, from where he was forcibly transferred to the Manus Island Immigration Detention Centre in late August 2013, without his asylum case being considered. On 26 April 2016, the PNG Supreme Court ruled that Australia’s regional processing centre on Manus Island was illegal and unconstitutional.
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- Urging the Australian authorities to process Kurdish Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani’s asylum claim, in light of the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ‘s 26 April ruling;
- Calling on the Australian authorities to ensure the safety and well-being of all those transferred to Australia’s offshore detention sites;
- Calling for the Australian authorities to end the offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus Island, in line with the recommendations of Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and ensure that asylum seekers and those in immigration detention in offshore processing centres, including Behrouz Boochani, are provided with adequate legal protection in line with Australia’s obligations under international law.
Send appeals to:
Hon. Peter Dutton MP
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Canberra ACT 2600
Email: peter.dutton.mp [at] aph.gov [dot] au
Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP,
Prime Minister of Australia,
PO Box 6022,
House of Representatives,
Canberra ACT 2600,
Via online form: https://www.pm.gov.au/contact-your-pm
Please also send copies of your appeals to the Australian Embassy in your country. Contact details for embassies can be found here.
- Organise public events, press conferences, readings of his poetry and other writings or or demonstrations;
- Write solidarity messages to Behrouz Boochani, messages can be sent via: wadsworth-jones [at] pen-international [dot] org
- Share Boochani’s writings online (see two poems by Boochani here)
- Share PEN’s 2016 Resolution on Australia.
In his native Iran, Behrouz Boochani worked as a freelance journalist, and for several Iranian newspapers including Kasbokar Weekly, Khanoon, Etemad and the Iranian Sports Agency. His publications include articles on politics in the Middle East and interviews with the Kurdish elite in Tehran. He is the co-founder, -editor, and contributor to the Kurdish Magazine Werya (Varia). On 17 February 2013, officials from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps ransacked the Werya offices in Ilam and arrested 11 of his colleagues. Several were subsequently imprisoned. Fearing for his safety, Boochani went into hiding.
During his three months in hiding, several colleagues advised Boochani that he was at risk of arrest and interrogation. In addition to this, as a member of the Kurdish minority in Iran, and of both the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the National Union of Kurdish Students, he had experienced years of threats and surveillance. Having been interrogated and warned previously about his writing and work teaching Kurdish culture and language, and having signed an undertaking that he would not continue this activity, he was in grave danger.
Boochani fled Iran on 23 May 2013. In July of that year, he and fellow asylum seekers were intercepted by the Australian Navy en route from Indonesia, and he asked for asylum in Australia. He was taken to Christmas Island and transferred to the Manus Island Immigration Detention Centre in late August 2013, where he has remained ever since.
Boochani’s passion for writing and human rights remains. He has continued to write about Kurdish and Iranian politics from detention, and some of these articles have been published on Kurdish websites in Iran; placing him at further risk should he ever be deported to Iran. Boochani also advocates on behalf of himself and his fellow asylum seekers, despite his predicament. He has worked tirelessly and constantly over his three years of detention and has published articles in Australia’s leading newspapers. He has also published work in Europe and has given many interviews to journalists and film-makers in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Canada, and is writing a book about his experiences of imprisonment on Manus Island (read the first instalment here).
Manus Island has become notorious for its ill-treatment of detainees where violence, sexual abuse and self-harm are reportedly common. Since the 2014 implementation of a ban by the Australian government on any commentary on its asylum seeker policy as administered on Manus Island and Nauru, as well as mainland detention centres, professional journalists and other parties, including teachers, medical and mental health workers employed in these detention centres, have been silenced (see PEN’s 2016 Resolution).
Since his transferral to Manus Island, the status of asylum seekers held in immigration detention in PNG has changed significantly. On 26 April 2016, the full bench of the PNG Supreme Court ruled that Australia’s regional processing centre on Manus Island was illegal and unconstitutional, since the asylum seekers who were seeking asylum in Australia were forcefully brought into PNG under Australian Federal Police Escort and held at the MIRPC against their will. Boochani was accorded refugee status by PNG immigration authorities in April 2016 even though he had refused to formally seek asylum there; Boochani remains adamant that his asylum request be given to Australian immigration.
Despite being nominally free to move about the island, Behrouz Boochani reports that he still faces considerable restrictions in his movement; the only way out of the processing centre is by an arranged bus ride to the main town of Lorengau—access to the centre is out of bounds since it is on a naval base. Refugees are body-searched when they leave and return. Boochani reports feeling unsafe on the island, but at the same time, unable to leave as he does not possess any travel documents. In effect, Boochani remains marooned on Manus Island and his future is on hold indefinitely. His indefinite state of limbo has compounded his trauma, and amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment which is prohibited under 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.
Behrouz Boochani is an honorary member of Melbourne PEN and Norwegian PEN. In September 2015, PEN International 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 Australian government to abide by their obligations to the principle of non-refoulement—as defined by Article 33 of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Despite numerous approaches to the Australian government and relevant ministers and departments, by the campaign coalition and its supporters, there has been no response from senior government officials. On 3 November 2016, PEN International and the coalition sent a follow-up letter to the Australian authorities on Boochani’s case.