When the Australian immigration department incarcerated Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist fleeing the oppressive Islamic regime in Iran, they made a huge tactical error.
Seasoned at fighting human rights abuses in his home country Boochani has continued inside the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea.
He’s not the only voice speaking out from inside this prison like facility but he is one of the loudest.
Voices like his will be part of what brings this unjust, unfair system to its knees.
His writing has featured in major newspapers in Australia, and around the world, and is opening up the gates of this prison and exposing the human rights abuses occurring inside.
After several failed attempts I finally managed to record an interview with Behrouz, coincidentally just when he announced he had shot and co directed a film from inside Manus – ‘‘Chauka, please tell us the time’.
This interview was recorded by using Skype from my computer to ring Behrouz’s mobile. Due to this occasionally there’s some odd bleeps and bloops.
‘Chauka, please tell us the time’ is a remarkable film,’ shot on a mobile phone, in restricted and distressing circumstances by Kurdish-Iranian journalist and writer, Behrouz Boochani.
Incarcerated since mid-2013 in the Manus Island Detention Centre, Boochani co-directs the film with Amsterdam based Iranian filmmaker and editor, Arash Kamali Sarvestani.
Far removed from the action, Sarvestani, honours Boochani’s vision, and works with him, across a vast distance, to create a poetic, hypnotic film, which is both a work of great artistry, and a damning inditement of a brutal policy.
At the heart of the film, the central thread around which all the others are woven—is the chauka, a bird that is sacred and central to Manus Island culture.
The camera roams through the centre, and beyond, and conveys the torturous ordeal endured by the 900 men, incarcerated in the prime of their life, for over 40 months now, endlessly waiting, aimlessly pacing, enduring the heat, the erosion of hope, and destruction of the spirit.
The many visual and aural threads include tense phone-calls back home, hinting at family breakdown and the unbearable pain of separation: ‘I am parted from my child,’ one asylum seeker laments in his three-minute weekly call. Referring to a child born after he fled his country, a detainee says: ‘I haven’t had a chance to hold him, touch him or feel his presence’.
We hear the incessant whirring of fans, the dentist-like drill of the fumigation apparatus. We witness the wasted lives of men, their loss of agency: ‘I have no control over this’, says one. ‘Look mum, please don’t cry. Please don’t cry. Look mum, I am stuck here’, pleads another.
Boochani’s mobile phone pans over the cramped living spaces and the tiny cubicles, partitioned by sheets and tarpaulins to create a fragile and claustrophobic privacy.
We hear the comments of broken spirits: ’I prefer to be dead because I have nothing anymore… no one is waiting for me, and I am waiting for no one. I have lost everything.’
There are startling, poetic surreal-like images—rows of empty white plastic chairs leaning against the wire through which can be seen the unobtainable sea; the exuberant, beautiful faces of Manus Island children, dancing just beyond the wire, images of cats, contrastingly free, at home in any space within and without the wire.
The soundtrack compliments the imagery—with two recurring sounds in particular—a haunting Kurdish folksong, sung by one of the inmates, and the chirping of the chauka bird.
The folksong is a lament, a cry of longing, and the birdsong, a homage to Manus Island culture. The theme of the Chauka, and what it symbolises is a brilliant conception.
Through an ongoing conversation with several Manus Island men, we begin to understand the deep significance of the bird, and the ongoing colonial history of the island.
We come to see the cruel irony—the name of a bird that means so much in Manus Island culture, being used as the name for a high security prison within the wider prison, which, for a time, was a place of isolation, and punishment.
We come to understand that the appropriation of the Chauka, as a name for a place of such abuse and suffering, is obscene, and reflective of the neo-colonial system on which the offshore detention system is based.
Also interwoven is an eye witness account of the murder of Reza Barati in February 2014, and eerie footage of a detainee, who at the end of his tether, has self harmed, and is carried, at night, to an ambulance.
The mesmerising rhythm, the recurring imagery, the glimpses of Manus Island culture, the bird song, the sound of the sea, and the intermittent silences, have a powerful cumulative effect.
When we briefly see, at film’s end, Australian Prime Minister Turnbull trying to justify the brutal policy for which his government is responsible, he is condemned by his own words.
He tries in vain to justify the horror, and is revealed as a man in self-denial, representing a government that is, at best, in self denial.
Boochani’s inclusive vision is enhanced by the respect he shows for the Manus Islanders. The mobile phone camera lingers on scenes of island life and culture.
Boochani allows the voices of Manus islanders to be heard. The people of the island are stuck in a terrible dilemma, co opted into the offshore processing system through their desperate need for work.
They are on a lower rung in the camp hierarchy, with the Australian government firmly established at the apex.
‘Chauka please tell me the time’ is driven by a unique, poetic vision. It is filmed by a man who has an eye for life’s beauty, but also deeply feels its injustices, and cruelties—a man who has personally suffered these injustices.
Boochani is at heart an artist, who works intuitively, and instinctually. He, and his distant partner, Arash Kamali Sarvestani, allow the images, the sounds, the snatches of conversation, to speak for themselves.
They transcend the severe limitations of the circumstances under which the film was shot, to give us a glimpse of hell, juxtaposed against the island’s tropical beauty and fragments of its indigenous culture.
They have documented a specific time and place, and helped expose the horror that is indefinite offshore detention, whilst remaining true to the paradoxical beauty of their art-form, and their deeply humanistic vision of life.
[UPDATE – Behrouz says the meeting was cancelled, immigration is waiting for an important leeter from the minister about him]
BREAKING THE VOICES OF MANUS
Researchers Against Pacific Black Sites announced today the outspoken journalist and Manus Island detainee Behrouz Boochani is again being singled out by PNG Immigration.
Behrouz has written many forensic critiques of life within the concentraion camp, and of Australia’s immigration policies.
Despite having refused to make an application for asylum in PNG because he was forcibly taken there by the Australian government, he received a letter on April 18 staying he has been found to be a refugee.
Behrouz did not accept this finding and staged a tree top protest refusing to be moved into the compound with other positive refugees.
“I have never accepted their positive result. I want to show to all people that their process is fake. Where would you find an asylum seeker who would rather be in a ‘negative’ prison than be found to be a refugee? Only in Manus.”
Behrouz was later arrested and moved into Oscar compound with other ‘positive’ refugees.
He continues to write about the conditions in the camp and the mood of detainees, his words are especially after PNG’s Supreme Court ruled the Manus camp is illegal and must close.
This is set detainees on a roller coaster of emotions, happy about the ruling, but then despondent as they hear politicians making announcements which bear no sign of ending the cruelty they have endured.
Today his was told he will have a meeting at 4pm with PNG Immigration who, with orders from Australia, will discuss a third country settlement option.
Researchers Against Pacific Island Black Sites say,
Behrouz is being singled out so to shut him up and in order to BREAK THE VOICES OF MANUS.
In the heart of the dark nights, I yell out through the mass of metallic and hard fences. Surrounded by agony and torture, I yell out right next to the tropical birds, thousands kilometre further away from the people’s world, in the heart of a remote island located in the corner of the vastest ocean in the world.
In the name of humanity and freedom, I yell out, in the name of all the values, values which connect human’s dignity with peace. I yell out, a yell from the hell where people are tortured and humiliated in a systematic form.
A yell having the quality of those flower-like ambitions when their petals are being plucked cruelly and a yell having the quality of a heart which has been crushed under the steel boots of politicians. Here is the hellhole Manus island.
Protecting the boarders and saving lives from the dangerous sea journey are the excuses for this brutal policy (The excuses for this brutal policy are to protect the boarders and to save lives from the dangerous boat journey).
After 27 months of implementing this policy, now it is time to impartially evaluate how this policy has been applied. During this long period, the Australian government has been accused of human rights violations by most of the credible international organisations which are active in human rights realm.
So far two people have lost their lives in the Manus prison ( detention centre). On Naura, dozen cases of rape and violence against women and children have been recorded, and with the continuance of this policy, everyday new cases are being added to the list of rape and violence.
Unfortunately, the government still insists on pursuing this policy. after 27 months, no one has been settled on Manus island yet. It shows that there is no planing for refugee resettlement on the island. Thus we could say that an obvious and official hostage-taking is occoring because since then no one has been resettled and no one has been released from the prison.
It is an apparent reality that saving people’s lives at sea is being used as a cover to implement the inhuman and immoral policy. Unfortunately, this policy has not had any achivement, it has just caused the intense suffering and the extreme agony for detainee asylum seekers as well as damages to the reputation and the credibility of Australia in the worldwide public opinion. It seems that it is time for Australian people to yell loudly at the government to urge it to confess that the policy of Naura and Manus resettlement has reached a dead end, and also to urge the government to bring an end to this harsh policy as soon as possible.
Behrouz Boochani Journalist and human rights defender Manus prison 5 October 2015
The show kicks off with April 29 1992 … a song about the riots in the aftermath of the acquittal of 4 people officers for the (video taped) beating of Rodney King.
There are riots all over America at the moment as communities rise up and express their discontent at yet more cases of police brutality (and fatalities) in which the officers involved are not held responsible for their conduct.
This song I think is the song for these times… especially the chorus ‘It’s about coming up and staying on top …. And screaming 187 on a motherfuckin’ cop’
Not that I would suggest violence…. just self defense.
Below is an excerpt from a text written by Romanos about hunger strikes.
A hunger strike is the ultimate means of struggle of a revolutionary individual. Historically it has been used by a wide political spectrum of fighters held hostage for their subversive action, mainly against democratic regimes.
From the dead hunger strikers of the r.o. Red Army Faction (RAF) and the deaths of the fighters of the IRA and ETA, up to the successful hunger strikes of anarchist comrades such as Christophoros Marinos and Kostas Kalaremas, the members of Revolutionary Struggle and the CCF. Points in common can be minimal to non-existent, but there is a decision which remains the same, “I am fighting to the end.”
This decision has been capable of creating specific blackmail against the State. Blackmail which, as paradoxical as it might sound, has gained important power of negotiation because of the dead hunger strikers.
And right at the end of the show we interview Steve Towson about his new song Christmas Island . Which is a fundraiser for the Asylum Seeker Resource Center.
Tensions continue to escalate on Australia’s offshore island detention centres, with a further series of assaults on refugees on Nauru and rising disquiet on Manus Island reported by sources.
On the Pacific island of Nauru, an Iranian refugee was stoned and then beaten by a group of local men riding motorcycles on Saturday. They threw rocks and swore at him before beating him and kicking him in the head.
Guardian Australia has seen photos of the man in hospital with one eye swollen shut by bruising and swelling on his head.
On Monday, a resettled refugee who had a job as carpenter on Nauru, was threatened by three local men who told him refugees were not allowed to work. He was told to quit his job or he would be killed next time he went to work. He has quit his job.
Other men have reported having cars swerve at them and being spat on in the street.
These attacks follow an assault last week on four teenage refugees, who are without parents on the island. One of the child refugees was taken to hospital. The four boys have not left their home unaccompanied since the attack.
“ ‘Fuck you, refugee’ is very common slogan these days in Nauru,” one refugee told Guardian Australia.
“The locals spit on refugees in public. They believe that there is not enough space in Nauru for the refugees and locals to live together. They think the refugees are taking the job opportunities and consuming all the resources in Nauru and they want to protect their country.”
Reports that an interpreter from Myanmar had been stabbed on Manus Island on Friday are “completely false”, according to the office of the immigration minister, Scott Morrison.
But Guardian Australia understands from sources on Manus that there have been several confrontations with guards and local contractors over the past month, increased cases of self-harm attempts by detainees, and more assaults by detainees on other detainees.
Each month, several men are choosing to be returned home rather than stay on the island. Several of those choosing to go home have been found by Australia to be refugees and face a “well-founded fear of persecution” if they go home.
One Manus worker told Guardian Australia: “The men say, ‘I am dying here on this island, I might as well go home and die in my own country. I will take the risk.’ And sometimes it is an extreme risk that they will be killed at home.”
“These men have been in detention for 15 months, many of them, they live behind huge fences and they are no closer to a resolution. They are constantly told, ‘Stay here forever, or go home.’
“It’s advertised on signs all over the camps: ‘Missing your family? Talk to IOM (International Organisation for Migration).’ These men despair, they are desperate and, eventually, they just give up and go home, even if they know it’s not safe.”
Proposed Abbott government changes to the Migration Act are incompatible with Australia’s human rights obligations, says a parliamentary committee on human rights chaired by a Liberal senator.
The report, delivered by the Parliamentary Committee into Human Rights, is scathing of nearly all of the government’s proposed changes to the act, saying they would put Australia at odds with international human rights law.
It is particularly critical of a proposal to cut the time in which asylum seekers’ refugee claims would be assessed, warning it could lead to genuine refugees being sent home to face persecution or torture.
Chaired by Senator Dean Smith, the committee comprises five Coalition, four Labor and one Greens members. Their report is used to advise senators how they make their decision on the proposed bill.
The changes proposed by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison would re-introduce temporary protection visas to be applied to about 30,000 asylum seekers still living in Australia.
It would mean asylum seekers found to be refugees would get a three-year visa allowing them to work, but they would ultimately have to return to their country of origin.
The changes would also expand maritime powers covering people detained at sea, and allow Australian law to significantly limit the country’s responsibilities under international human rights laws.
The committee criticised the plan to expand powers to detain people at sea, saying it would have prevented the recent High Court case on behalf of 157 asylum seekers who were held on the high seas on the Australian customs ship the Ocean Protector for a month earlier this year. The asylum seekers were subsequently moved into detention on Nauru. The High Court is still considering the case.
According to the committee, the proposed amendments would “further constrain the already limited ability of the courts to evaluate Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers”.
On refugee assessments that needed to be “fast-tracked”, the report says: “The committee considers that the proposed fast-track arrangement appears to be primarily directed to ensuring the assessment and review processes are as brief as possible.”
Dean Smith, a West Australian Liberal Senator, said Australia’s sovereignty should not exempt it from the international human rights obligations it has made.
“The committee requires the government to demonstrate it is alert to and respects the obligations it’s made in international treaties,” he said.
“As a scrutiny committee, the committee acts to provide a technical and bipartisan review of legislation.”
Professor Jane McAdam, from the University of NSW’s Kaldor Centre, who will address the report at the centre’s annual conference on international refugee law on Monday, said the findings from the bipartisan committee were telling.
“It’s very clear that they think many aspects of this current bill breach international law,” Professor McAdam said.
“Essentially we are being asked to just trust the minister, where we know his main objective is deterrence. This is [based on] the assumption that any person who arrives by boat will not ever receive permanent protection.”
Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the bill was in clear contravention of Australia’s human rights responsibilities.
“This bill will see refugees returned to danger, the breaking of international law and people being subjected to extended and damaging arbitrary detention. That can’t be allowed to happen,” she said.
The damning report comes as Australia continues to lobby for a seat on the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee to be voted on in 2017. Last month, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told Fairfax Media that Australia’s bid is “consistent with our nation’s history of promoting and protecting human rights.
“Our strong and principled stand on numerous human rights issues in our role as a temporary member of the Security Council will form part of our campaign,” she said.