Media prize a ‘defeat’ for Australian refugee censorship, says author

Behrouz Boochani … Australian government used “systematic censorship” to control refugee information. Image: Hoda Afshar/Behrouz Boochani/RNZ Pacific

By RNZ Pacific

A refugee journalist detained on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island says winning an Italian award for investigative journalism could end censorship of offshore detention in the Australian media.

Behrouz Boochani, who has made a documentary and written a book during his five years in exile, has won the Anna Politkovskaya Prize for Press Freedom from the Italian magazine Internazionale.

Boochani regularly contributes to The Guardian and the Saturday Paper in Australia but said other publications supported the Australian government’s efforts to restrict information about its offshore detention regime.

READ MORE: Australia needs a moral revolution

“The Australian government couldn’t keep 2000 people, including children and women, in a harsh prison camps on Manus and Nauru without systematic censorship,” Boochani said.

“I have many experiences working with the media in Australia and also internationally over the past five years and I know that the government always tries to manage the information and censor the situation,” he said.

-Partners-

“But after five years I think they are defeated because international media and public opinion are aware completely of what the government has done on Manus and Nauru.”

Condemning a fact
The Guardian reported that the award’s organisers paid tribute to Boochani’s “commitment to condemning a fact which has been intentionally kept out of the spotlight”.

The prize was a symbol of the struggle of the refugees who had spoken out from offshore detention as well as their advocates, human rights defenders and independent journalists who had covered their stories, the journalist said.

“I think it is very important because our work is acknowledged and recognised internationally.”

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Refugee children on Nauru ‘living without hope’, says advocacy group

Children outside RPC3 tents in Nauru … situation “untenable”. Image: Refugee Action Coalition/RNZ Pacific

By RNZ Pacific

A legal advocacy group has told the UN Human Rights Council that more than 100 asylum seeker and refugee children are living without hope on Nauru.

The Human Rights Law Centre addressed the latest council session in Geneva.

The centre’s Daniel Webb told the council that despite the fact the Australian government was professing its committment to human rights in Geneva, it continued to indefinitely imprison 102 children in its offshore detention centre on Nauru.

“Imprisoned for fleeing the same atrocities our government comes here and condemns. And after five years of detention, these children have now lost hope.

“Some have stopped speaking. Some have stopped eating. A 10-year-old boy recently tried to kill himself.”

Webb said if the detention was not stopped there would be deaths.

-Partners-

He said even the government’s own medical advisers were warning that the situation was untenable.

“Yet the Australian government still refuses to free these kids, and is fighting case after case in our Federal Court to deny them access to urgent medical care. Mr President, we are talking about 102 children.”

Australia presented their concerns regarding human rights around the world at the same session but did not mention their detention camps on Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

NZ offer still open for taking 150 refugees, says PM Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talking to the media at Auckland University of Technology yesterday. Image: Rahul Bhattarai/PMC

By Rahul Bhattarai in Auckland

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has reaffirmed her country’s offer to take 150 refugees from Nauru and Manus Island shortly before she attends the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ summit next week.

New Zealand’s offer to take in “150 refugees from across Nauru and Manus still stands”, she said at the official opening of a new science and technology building at Auckland University of Technology yesterday.

Nauru is hosting the 49th Forum but has a very tight media policy for the event including a ban on Australia’s public broadcaster ABC and a threat to revoke the visas of journalists who capture images of the refugees or detention centre facilities.

READ MORE: Aid groups call on Pacific leaders to end Nauru refugee ‘stain in region’

The country has also been trying to “clean up” the facilities before politicians and the media arrive for the week-long Forum and associated meetings from September 3-9 after years of alleged human rights violations.

Amnesty International alleged this week there was an “escalating health crisis” for refugee children on Nauru, saying the Australian government’s “shameful refugee policy” must top of the agenda of the Forum meeting.

-Partners-

In an open letter co-signed by a coalition of 84 influential civil society organisations, Amnesty International called for an end to the “cruel and abusive refugee policy” which had led to more than 2000 women, men and children being “warehoused” on Nauru and Manus island in “cruel and degrading conditions” over the past five years.

Insight to refugees
Due to her short three-day visit to Nauru, Prime Minister Ardern did not have the time to meet individual refugees, but confirmed New Zealand’s stance.

“Having an insight as to the experience on Nauru, of course, that’s something I want to seek,” she said.

“But if I meet with the individual refugees, how do we decide who they would be?”

Ardern will speak to various different leaders from Pacific Island nations during her Nauru visit.

She said would use her time as productively as she could consider a range of issues from Pacific neighbours’ perspective.

Nauru has been an ongoing problem with its crackdown on the media.

The government’s ban on the ABC had drawn global condemnation from media freedom groups, including the Pacific Media Centre.

The Prime Minister was at AUT to open the new $120 million Engineering, Technology and Design building.

This is a digital era home with state of the art facilities for engineering, computer and mathematical sciences students at AUT’s city campus.

Rahul Bhattarai is a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student journalist who has been on an intensive assignment for Te Waha Nui this week. He is also on the Pacific Media Centre’s Pacific Media Watch freedom project.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

RSF calls on Nauru to allow banned ABC to cover Pacific Islands Forum

ABC ban … “The Nauruan government should not be allowed to dictate who fills the positions in an Australian media pool.” Image: David Robie/PMC

By Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on Nauru to rescind its decision to bar Australia’s public radio and TV broadcaster, ABC, from covering the Pacific Islands Forum that is being hosted there next month.

Journalists must be able to work with complete freedom, the Paris-based media freedom watchdog RSF said.

Nauru’s government has cited “harassment” and “lack of respect towards our president” as grounds for banning the ABC from covering this annual meeting of 18 South and North Pacific island nations, which usually receives a great deal of media coverage due on September 1-9.

READ MORE: Nauru media ban on ABC targets Australian detention centre gag

A three-member Australian press pool had been envisaged, with ABC providing the TV coverage, until the Nauruan authorities announced that no ABC representative would be allowed into the country because of the broadcaster’s “continued biased and false reporting about our country.”

“The grounds given by Nauru’s authorities are completely specious, so we urge them to rescind this decision and to provide ABC with press accreditation,” said Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

-Partners-

“This island has become a news and information black hole because of the refugee processing centre it hosts for the Australian government. We also condemn the hypocritical silence from the Australian authorities, who have not lifted a finger to defend their public broadcaster.”

When asked about the ban on the ABC, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull simply described it as “regrettable,” making it clear that his government was not going to try to persuade Nauru to allow journalists to work there freely

This small island nation is often described as a “Pacific gulag” or “Australia’s Guantanamo” because it allows Australia to operate a refugee detention centre there in exchange for millions of Australian dollars.

The UN has often criticised conditions in the camp.

Journalists are clearly unwelcome in Nauru. As RSF noted in its recent report on the obstacles to media coverage of refugee routes, Nauru charges 8000 euros for a visa application that is not refundable even when the visa is denied, which is usually the case.

And to further limit media attention, Nauru found another radical solution – blocking access to Facebook for three years.

Australia is ranked 19th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

The Pacific Media Centre’s Pacific Media Watch freedom project collaborates with Reporters Without Borders.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Nauru media ban on ABC targets Australian detention centre gag

There has been much wringing of hands over Nauru’s ban on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for next month’s Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ summit. But, reports Sri Krishnamurthi of Asia Pacific Journalism, even more perplexing is Canberra’s relative silence.

The elephant in the room about the Australian Broadcasting Corporation ban that has people tip-toeing through the frangipani and whispering in hushed tones is the Canberra’s asylum seeker detention centre in the small Pacific state of Nauru.

Nauru is the host of the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ summit on September 3-6 and the ban on the ABC has been widely condemned by media freedom groups, including the Pacific Media Centre.

The Nauru detention centre has become a significant part of Nauru’s economy since 2001, and in the wake of the strip mining of phosphate (guano) which left it bereft of resources and finances.

READ MORE: NZ Pacific journalists ‘appalled’ by Nauru ban on ABC at Forum

“Nauru’s Australian-managed detention camp is a disgrace, just as the one on Manus island was (now closed). It shows the profound hypocrisy of both Australian and Nauruan authorities,” says Daniel Bastard, head of the Asia-Pacific Desk for Reporters with Borders (RSF).

“Canberra outsources its absurd anti-immigration policy and washes its dirty hands in paying huge amounts of money to Yaren which, in exchange, accepts to carry on human rights violations.

-Partners-

“For sure, Nauruan authorities don’t want journalists to investigate this issue, to report on the living or surviving conditions of the refugees and to interview the numerous men, women and children arbitrarily detained in the camp,” he told Asia Pacific Report.

“And the Australian government doesn’t want this hypocrisy to be exposed either, since Canberra is responsible for this matter.”

No illusion
Veteran New Zealand journalist Michael Field, who has covered the Pacific for three decades, is under no illusion why Nauru has banned the ABC and imposed restrictions on the accredited media that will be covering the Forum.

“It is hardly surprising given the way Nauru has been turned into an Australian concentration camp – Nauru and Australian authorities are desperate to avoid an independent view of it all,” says Field.

“Australia has treated Nauru as a colony long after independence. But the current Nauru government is strongly opinionated and has a deep sense of its own point of view.”

Associate Professor Joseph Fernandez, a media law specialist and academic at Curtin University, Western Australia, and an RSF correspondent, believes Canberra should use its influence to get Nauru to back down on its ban.

“This kind of attitude from governments towards the media should be checked and it should be done convincingly. After all, Australia does provide financial aid to Nauru,” Dr Fernandez says.

“It should use this as a leverage to ensure such governments do not behave in an unacceptable way especially when Australian interests are at stake.

“The Australian public are entitled to not have a representative from their public broadcaster denied permission to cover the event only on the grounds that the host government is not happy with the broadcaster’s previous coverage.”

Not surprised
He is not surprised by Canberra treading warily around the issue.

“It is disappointing that the Australian government has not been more active in opposing this ban, but it isn’t surprising because our leaders tend to take a ‘softly, softly’ approach,” Dr Fernandez says.

He does think that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull should be a bit more vocal on ABC’s banning from a free media point-of-view, than washing its hands of the affair and claiming Nauru has “sovereign” rights.

“Yes, of course. Even though Nauru may be right to say that it should have the final say about who it grants an entry visa to, in the present case the grounds for such refusal are very flimsy and an affront to the notion of a free press,” says Dr Fernandez.

The ABC more than any other media organisation in the Pacific has arguably covered Nauru better than the rest, and by doing so has got under the thin veneer of democracy of Baron Waqa’s presidency.

“The ABC has a history of investigation in Nauru. In 2015, it investigated a bribery scandal of President Waqa by an Australian phosphate dealer,” RSF’s Bastard says.

Michael Field says: “I guess it is simply because the ABC has covered Nauru more than other news outlets.”

‘Fearless reporting’
Dr Fernandez explains: “The ABC is well regarded for its fearless reporting, not just in Australia but also on other countries.

“The ABC coverage of Nauru has been quite critical in the past and this is not something countries with less established democracies are comfortable with.

“Those in power sometimes allow that power to go to their heads. If the Nauruan government has a complaint about specific ABC reporting it should use the proper channels to take these complaints forward.

“The ABC has one of the most elaborate complaints mechanisms in the country. That aside, if something is legally actionable they should take action through the courts. After all, governments and their leaders are better placed to seek redress through the courts.”

Bastard bluntly states that the Nauruan government is authoritarian in its outlook.

“Nauruan authorities don’t have a strong history of promoting freedom to inform, especially since 2013. What with the US$8000 fee to apply for a visa (waived for the Forum), with no guarantee of approval, the blocking of Facebook for almost three years, increasing cases of blatant censorship on domestic media in the recent years…

“There is nothing to gain in acting like this if you want to build a long-term democracy. But if the current government wants to remain in power…?”

To boycott or not?
The news media appears divided on the proposed boycott of the Forum, as threatened by the Australian Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery president David Crowe last month.

Bastard agrees with the boycott: “Yes, absolutely,” he says.

“Media and journalists have to show solidarity with their colleagues. If a government doesn’t want to abide by democratic rules in letting the press do its work freely, then the press as a whole doesn’t have to abide by authoritarian decisions.”

But, says Field: “Journalists should report the news – not boycott it…. And if there are handicaps in that reporting, then tell the readers. Not run off into the corner and have a cry.”

News Corp in Australia has already rejected the boycott, and while the New Zealand Press Gallery sympathises with its Australian counterparts it will not be boycotting the Forum.

We share the concerns expressed by our Australian counterparts in the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery about the Nauru Government’s decision to ban the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from the Pacific Islands Forum,” says Stacey Kirk, chair of the NZ Parliamentary Press Gallery.

“There is no intention for the NZ Parliamentary Press Gallery to boycott the forum at this stage,” she told Asia Pacific Report.”

With only a matter of weeks to the Forum there is water to run under the bridge yet.

Sri Krishnamurthi is a journalist on the Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies (Digital Media) reporting on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Manus refugees ‘in the dark’ as healthcare provider pulls out

An SBS graphic screen shot from a Pacific detention centres timeline video.

By Nick Baker of SBS News

The Australian government has been slammed for a lack of transparency amid news that the healthcare provider for refugees on Manus Island will wrap up its work today.

The International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) has been providing healthcare for refugees on Manus for several years but their contract is due to expire today.

However, despite the end date, the government did not publicly indicate a new provider was confirmed until last Friday. Although details remained scant.

In a statement, the Department of Home Affairs said it had “engaged a new health services provider from 1 May 2018 (and) IHMS will work with the new health service provider during a transition period”.

“Individuals will continue to have access to appropriate primary health services,” it said.

A spokesperson from IHMS confirmed the April 30 end date but said “it will, however, maintain a core group of staff in Manus and Port Moresby to support the transition to a new health service provider”.

New provider
But neither the Department of Home Affairs or IHMS would say who the new provider would be, leaving open questions about the quality of the care.

-Partners-

Greens Senator Nick McKim said Australians were once again “in the dark” about the treatment of refugees on Manus.

McKim said getting information from the Department of Home Affairs was “like getting blood from a stone”.

“And of course that’s deliberate and part of the intent of establishing Australia’s offshore detention system in the first place – to drop a veil of secrecy over what’s happening in those places.”

He said although IHMS had a very checkered history, there was now a danger of gaps in health care over the coming months and beyond.

“Ultimately the risk is yet more people will come to harm … as a result of Peter Dutton’s negligence.”

McKim said the use of Manus and other offshore immigration detention facilities will go down as “one of the darkest chapters” in Australian history.

Harm ‘very rare’
“Because it’s very rare that in Australia’s history we’ve deliberately caused harm to innocent people and that’s exactly what Peter Dutton is doing.”

Refugee coordinator at Amnesty International Australia Graham Thom similarly expressed concerned around healthcare for those on Manus after today.

“Ever since the Australian government began shipping refugees out to detention centres on remote tropical islands, they have been trying to hide from the consequences of this cruel policy.”

“Withdrawing healthcare is Australia’s latest deplorable attempt to shift the responsibility for the suffering it has caused.”

“The health situation for refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea is already dire, but the end of the IHMS contract threatens to turn this into an all-out crisis.”

“The only way for Australia to ensure the health of the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus is to end offshore processing for good.”

SBS News coverage on the Pacific.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Erin Harris: Nauru appeal court move denies justice for refugees

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Erin Harris: Nauru appeal court move denies justice for refugees

The Australian High Court building in Canberra. Image: Bentley Smith/Flickr/The Interpreter

BRIEFING: By Erin Harris

The decision to terminate a long-standing arrangement that saw the Australian High Court act as a partial appellate court for Nauru, as reported last week, has heightened concerns about Nauru’s appropriateness as a venue for an Australian immigration detention centre.

The timing of the decision – 90 days’ notice of the termination was quietly given to the Australian Government on 13 December – appears to have been designed to block the avenue of appeal for 19 citizens (several former Nauruan MPs among them) charged over a 2015 protest outside the Parliament of Nauru.

However, it has also served to further erode the rights of hundreds of asylum seekers, including dozens of children, currently in Nauru.

The cancelled court arrangement had been in place since 1976, yet determined only 16 cases in total. Thirteen of those cases were heard in 2017, with 11 brought by asylum seekers disputing the refusal of refugee status.

Of those 11 cases, only one was dismissed. Eight were successful, and two were dropped due to refugee status being granted in the interim.

Nauru has declared it will set up its own court of appeal, but in the meantime asylum seekers are denied the basic legal right of appeal.

-Partners-

In response to the termination becoming public, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop declared:

Australia supports Nauru’s sovereignty and its December 2017 decision to terminate the treaty in advance of the nation’s 50th anniversary of independence.

Secretive nature
Australia is right to support Nauru’s assertion of sovereignty, and the removal of this somewhat awkward arrangement – an oddity the Australian Law Reform Commission recommended terminating in 2001.

But Australia also needs to question the secretive nature of the announcement, its politically motivated timing, and the fact that the termination took effect before an alternative appeals court could be established.

Several legal rulings and a Senate inquiry have determined that Australia has a duty of care in relation to the asylum seekers in our facilities, regardless of their location, and this development indicates a further blow to the rights of an already vulnerable population.

This shutdown of a legal avenue of appeal is not the only reason to question the ongoing appropriateness of Nauru as a site for Australia’s immigration detention centre.

In the past few months, a steady stream of cases have demonstrated Nauru’s lack of capacity to deal with the mounting number of health issues among asylum seekers held on the island.

Despite Australia’s claim that “healthcare in Nauru is the responsibility of the government of Nauru”, in reality, Nauru is unable to meet asylum seekers’ needs.

The Australian government’s own health contractor on the island has declared the hospital in Nauru to be unsafe for surgery, and Nauru has no permanent specialist child psychiatrists.

Suicide risk
In 2018 alone, there have been two cases (here and here) of juveniles at acute risk of suicide on Nauru being ordered by Australian courts to be transferred to Australia for treatment.

Taiwan has also been used as an alternative venue for surgical treatment not available in Nauru. Because Taiwan is not a UN member state, and therefore not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, refugees transferred there cannot claim protection on their arrival.

A consideration of Australia’s duty of care in relation to the asylum seekers housed on Nauru begs the question of why Australia continues to doggedly prioritise the US resettlement deal to the exclusion of all other options?

This is particularly pertinent in light of President Donald Trump’s recent escalation of negativity towards immigrants and refugees, and the slow pace at which the US deal is unfolding.

UNHCR Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific in Geneva, Indrika Ratwatte, recently urged the Australian government to reconsider the offer by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made in November, and reaffirmed this week.

By doing so, Australia could quickly bring an end to the suffering of many of the detainees who remain on Nauru.

Ultimately, Australia needs to recognise that the asylum seekers on Nauru are its responsibility, and that Nauru’s declining ability to provide them with adequate care and basic rights is a problem that must be solved.

Erin Harris is a research associate at the Lowy Institute, where she works with both the Diplomacy and Public Opinion Programme and the Digital Program. Her research interests include gender, development and the Pacific. This article originally appeared on The Interpreter, published by the Lowy Institute and is republished with the permission of the author.

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Journalism educators protest over ‘targeting’ of Boochani on Manus

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Journalism educators protest over ‘targeting’ of Boochani on Manus

Manus Island was the unique setting for this Sydney Film Festival documentary collaboration between Iranian-Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani and a Dutch filmmaker using footage shot on a mobile phone. Video: Sydfilmfest

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

The Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA) has expressed its deep concern about reports that Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian-Kurdish journalist and regular contributor to Australian publications, was arrested on Manus Island early last Thursday.

He was released later in the day.

READ MORE: Médecins Sans Frontières denied access to refugees as thousands rally in Australia

Behrouz Boochani … refugee journalist “targeted” by authorities on Manus Island. Image: Refugee Alternatives

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) chief executive, Paul Murphy, said Boochani appeared to have been deliberately targeted by Papua New Guinea (PNG) police in the crackdown on November 23 because he was well known as a journalist reporting from inside the detention centre.

“Behrouz has been one of the main sources of factual information about conditions inside the Manus Island detention centre for the past few years, and his reporting has been published in Australia and internationally,” Murphy said.

-Partners-

“His reporting in the finest traditions of journalism has been critical when the Australian and PNG governments have done everything they can to prevent media from having access to the asylum seekers on Manus Island.

“If, as the case appears to be, he has been targeted and arrested because of his profile and his role as a journalist in an attempt to silence him, this is an egregious attack on press freedom that cannot be let stand.”

Like MEAA, JERAA has called on the Australian and PNG governments to inform the public about his safety, and allow him to continue doing the journalistic work he has been for so many months.

Amnesty Award for journalism
Just three weeks ago, Boochani was awarded the Amnesty International Australian Media Award for his journalism from Manus Island.

JERAA president, Matthew Ricketson, was a guest speaker at the awards in Sydney, and testified to the loud applause that greeted the award as well as the heartfelt admiration of his colleague at Guardian Australia, Ben Doherty, who accepted the award in Boochani’s absence.

Professor Ricketson said: “Behrouz Boochani’s reporting has been brave and inspiring, not least because he has been pursuing it while at the same time he has been detained indefinitely.

“Governments for nearly two decades now have been fighting determinedly to hide from public view – and the possibility of public empathy – what has been happening inside offshore detention centres.

“Boochani’s reporting is a vital counterweight to this campaign”.

Earlier this year, MEAA, the journalists’ union, co-ordinated an open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, calling for him to be resettled in Australia. Dozens of high-profile journalists and writers co-signed the open letter.

Boochani’s work has been published in The Saturday Paper as well as Guardian Australia, while his film about life inside the Manus detention centre, Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time has been screened at the Sydney and London film festivals. He tweets at @BehrouzBoochani

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IFJ blasts ‘press freedom attack’ on Iranian-Kurdish journalist in PNG

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: IFJ blasts ‘press freedom attack’ on Iranian-Kurdish journalist in PNG

Two PNG police officers led away Behrouz Boochani in handcuffs on Manus Island earlier today. Image: Aziz58825713/Twitter

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) in condemning the reported arrest of Iranian-Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani by Papua New Guinea police earlier today.

The IFJ and MEAA have deplored the arrest as a targeted attack on press freedom by Papua New Guinea’s police.

A police operation was launched on Manus Island with PNG police and immigration officers entering the former Australian detention centre.

The centre was closed three weeks ago, but refugees have refused to leave, due to concerns over their safety.

Large numbers of officers, including the paramilitary police mobile squad unit entered the grounds and told the refugees they had an hour to leave. They tried to confiscate mobile phones and reportedly damaged personal belongings.

Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian-Kurdish journalist, was arrested during the raid, with reports that officers were specifically looking for him.

-Partners-

Silencing a critic
He was led away in handcuffs by two police officers.

Boochani has been in the detention centre on Manus Island since August 2013.

Boochani has been a main source of factual information about the conditions inside Manus Island detention centre, with his reports been published in Australia and internationally.

Earlier this year he was shortlisted in the journalism category for the 2017 Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Awards and just three weeks ago he was awarded the Amnesty International Australia Media Award for his journalism from Manus Island.

Earlier this year, MEAA and the IFJ launched a campaign with IFEX calling on the Australian government to resettle Boochani in Australia.

MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy said: “If, as the case appears to be, he has been targeted and arrested because of his profile and his role as a journalist in an attempt to silence him, this is an egregious attack on press freedom that cannot be let stand.

“We call on the Australian and PNG governments to release him from custody, assure his safety, and not to hinder him from continuing to perform his role as a journalist.”

The IFJ said: “The arrest of Behrouz Boochani, if it is because of his work as journalist, is a blatant attack of press freedom and an attempt to silence a critical voice. We join MEAA in calling for the Australian and PNG governments to release him for custody immediately, and guarantee his safety.

“Journalists should never be stopped from doing their work.”

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Chris Trotter: Catastrophic loss of trust over Canberra’s Manus provocation

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Chris Trotter: Catastrophic loss of trust over Canberra’s Manus provocation

OPINION: By Chris Trotter

You have to go a long way to find anything remotely resembling Australia’s current treatment of New Zealand.

For a supposedly friendly government to deliberately inject inflammatory disinformation into the political bloodstream of its supposedly closest neighbour is an extraordinarily provocative act. Not quite an act of war, but the sort of intervention that can all-too-easily provoke a catastrophic loss of trust.

It’s the sort of thing that the Soviets and the Americans used to do to one another all the time during the Cold War. Except, of course, those two superpowers were ideological and geopolitical rivals of the first order. It takes a real effort to re-cast the relationship between New Zealand and Australia in similar terms. Nevertheless, it’s an effort we are now obliged to make.

So, what is it that Australia has done? Essentially, its national security apparatus (presumably at the instigation of their political leaders) has released, mostly through media surrogates, a number of related stories calculated to inflame the prejudices of a certain type of New Zealander.

Like Australia, New Zealand harbours a frighteningly large number of racists. Politically-speaking, such people are easily aroused and have few qualms about setting-off ugly, racially-charged, debates on talkback radio, in the letters columns of the daily newspapers and across social media. These individuals are trouble enough when all they have to fight with are their own stereotypes and prejudices. Arm them with the carefully assembled disinformation of “fake news” and they instantly become quite dangerous.

Planting stories
And yet, this is exactly what the Australian authorities have done. Planting stories in their own press (knowing they will be picked up almost immediately by our own) about at least four boatloads of illegal immigrants that have set out for New Zealand only to be intercepted and turned back by the ever-vigilant officers of the Royal Australian Navy and their Coast Guard comrades.

-Partners-

The purpose of this story (unsourced and lacking in detail, making it, almost certainly, fake news) was to paint New Zealand’s prime minister as an ill-informed and ungrateful diplomatic naïf: an inexperienced young idealist who doesn’t know which way is up when it comes to dealing with real-world problems.

This, alone, was an extraordinary intervention. To gauge how extraordinary, just turn it around. Imagine the reaction in Australia if some unnamed person in New Zealand’s national security apparatus leaked a memo to one of this country’s daily newspapers in which the negative diplomatic and economic consequences of being tainted by association with Australia’s flouting of international law is set forth in clinical detail. If the memo also contained a collection of highly critical assessments of Turnbull’s cabinet colleagues, allegedly passed-on by a number of unnamed western diplomats, then so much the better!

Canberra would not be impressed!

If the Australians had left it at just one intervention, then perhaps New Zealanders could simply have shrugged it off as yet another case of bad behaviour from the land of the under-arm bowlers. But when have the Aussies ever left it at “just one”?

Former guard’s ‘intervention’
The next intervention came in the form of “Ian” – formerly a guard (or so he said) at both the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres. For reasons it has yet to adequately explain, RNZ’s Checkpoint programme provided “Ian” with nearly ten, largely uninterrupted, minutes of air-time during which he poured-forth a stream of accusations and characterisations which, to put it mildly, painted the protesters occupying the decommissioned Manus Island facility in the most lurid and disquieting colours. The detainees were criminals, drug-dealers – paedophiles even! Not at all the sort of people New Zealanders would want in their country.

“Ian”, it turns out, is a “witness” well-known to the many Australian NGOs that have taken up the cause of the detainees on Manus and Nauru. They have noted the curious similarities between “Ian’s” supposedly personal observations and experiences, and the inflammatory talking-points constantly reiterated by Australia’s hard-line Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton. A cynic might describe the grim “testimony” of “Ian” and Dutton as mutually reinforcing.

No matter. New Zealand’s racist, Islamophobic and militantly anti-immigrant community had been supplied with yet another truckload of Australian-manufactured ammunition.

Enough? Not hardly! Only on Friday morning New Zealanders were fed the shocking “news” that the protesting Manus Island detainees are harbouring within their ranks an unspecified number of men guilty of having debauched and prostituted local girls as young as 10 and 13!

Too much? Over the top? Redolent of the very worst instances of the murderous racial-incitement for which the Deep South of the United States was so rightly infamous? It sure is! Which is why we must hope that the internet does not operate on Manus Island. Because, if the local inhabitants were to read on-line that the detainees were responsible for prostituting their daughters, what might they NOT do?

Disinformation campaign
One almost feels that the Australian spooks behind this extraordinary disinformation campaign would actually be delighted if the locals burned down the Manus Island detention centre with the protesting detainees inside it.

“This is what comes of 37-year-old Kiwi prime ministers meddling in matters they know nothing about!” That would be the consistent theme of the right-wing Australian media. It would not take long for the same line to be picked up here: first on social media, and then by more mainstream media outlets.

Right-wing outrage, mixed with a gleeful “we told you so!”, could not, however, be contained within the news media for very long. Inevitably, the more outré inhabitants of the Opposition’s back bench would take possession of the controversy, from there it would cascade down rapidly to Opposition politicians nearer the front.

Before her enemies could say: “It’s all your fault!”, Jacinda would find herself under withering political fire from both sides of the Tasman. Canberra would register her increasingly fragile government’s distress with grim satisfaction.

As the men and women responsible for organising “Operation Stardust” deleted its final folder, and fed the last incriminating document into the paper-shredder, one or two of them might even have voiced a judiciously muted “Mission Accomplished!”

This essay, by Chris Trotter, was originally posted on the Bowalley Road blog of Saturday, 18 November 2017, under the title: “Not quite an act of war: Analysing Australia’s push-back against Jacinda’s Manus Island outreach.  It is republished by Asia Pacific Report with the permission of the author.

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