Liberty Victoria awards the 2022 Voltaire Empty Chair Award to Mehdi Ali

Liberty Victoria is awarding the 2022 Voltaire Empty Chair Award to Mehdi Ali, a refugee from Ahvaz, Iran who had been held in detention by Australia since 2013 including at the Park Hotel in Melbourne. He was held in detention by Australia for almost a decade, from the age 15 until he was 24. He has now been afforded protection in the United States.

Mehdi has been a powerful and tireless advocate for refugees and people seeking asylum in detention, including onshore detention.

Established in 2016, the Voltaire Empty Chair Award is presented to a person who is worthy to receive the Voltaire or Young Voltaire Award but cannot be present to receive the award due to the consequences of their exercise of or advocacy for human rights, free speech or civil liberties.  

A member of Iran’s persecuted Ahwazi Arab minority, Mehdi was a passenger on a boat intercepted by Australian authorities in 2013. He was sent to Australia’s detention centres on Christmas Island and then Nauru, an experience that he has described as “a complete trauma”.

Late in 2014 Mehdi’s claim for refugee protection was accepted. He was found to have a well-founded fear of persecution in Iran, meaning that he could not be returned.

Mehdi was brought to Australia under the short-lived Medevac laws in 2019 and then spent more than two years in detention, shuttled – sometimes in handcuffs – between Brisbane and Melbourne.

Mehdi fought for and won the right to run a twitter account whilst detained at the Park Hotel. Through his tireless activism he brought attention to the Australian detention system from within with dignity, kindness, and optimism, an issue which received international attention during the Djokovic case.

He has used his social media presence to highlight the injustices and trauma faced by refugees and people seeking asylum placed in immigration detention in Australia.

Mehdi was resettled in the United States in March 2022.

We are honoured that Mehdi has accepted the 2022 Liberty Victoria Empty Chair award.

The Liberty Victoria Empty Chair Award will be presented at an awards dinner at the Sofitel Hotel in Melbourne on Friday 18 November 2022 at 7.00pm. 

Registration at

We hope you can join us and hear from Mehdi and other Voltaire human rights award winners.

Michael Stanton

President, Liberty Victoria


“I do not wish to go into great detail about the violation of asylum seekers’s human rights and the length of their imprisonment, but I ask the Australian government: have we not had enough of this?

“Isn’t it time to close the chapter of offshore detention forever and give these people humane treatment, legal action and certainty after years of anxiety and psychological harassment?

“The concept of humanity knows no borders, and the asylum seekers and refugees held offshore deserve to taste the same freedom as those who were recently released in Australia. I welcome the Australian government’s decision to release refugees within Australia. This is a step forward, regardless of the motives, but only if our remaining friends detained offshore are included too.”


Tickets are available at

Enquiries can be made to the Liberty Victoria office email: phone:

03 9670 6422

(Photo: MehdiAli98 on Twitter)