Press release – Liberty Victoria awards the 2021 Voltaire Empty Chair Award to all refugees and asylums seekers in detention

In 2021, Liberty Victoria is awarding the Voltaire Empty Chair Award to all refugees and asylum seekers in on and off-shore detention.

Established in 2016, this award is presented to a person who is worthy to receive the Voltaire or Young Voltaire Human Rights Awards, 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. Previous recipients have been Iranian cartoonist Ali Dorani aka 'Eaten Fish', Behrouz Boochani and Bernard Collaery.

Australian immigration detention policies and practices meant that refugees and asylum seekers who have fled persecution and torture in their own countries continue to be dehumanised and detained, having to wait years to have their claims determined. Ongoing and indefinite immigration detention is a fundamental breach of refugee and asylum seekers’ human rights.

Recent legislation gives the government a broad unchallengeable power to withdraw a person’s refugee status recognition – declaring they can be returned to the country they fled, overriding international conventions.

A number of individual refugees and asylum seekers in detention were nominated for the 2021 Voltaire Empty Chair Award. In recognition of the human rights work and advocacy that a number of people in detention have been doing over the years, Liberty Victoria decided to award the Empty Chair to all refugees and asylum seekers in detention. The group has fought to defend their freedoms and articulate the experiences and the injustices to which they have been subjected. They have shown moral leadership and political resistance, working together in protests from remote islands, hotel prisons, immigration detention facilities, and more recently for those who have been released, by taking the extraordinarily brave act of speaking out from in front of the buildings in which they were formerly detained. This group should have their struggle for rights recognised.

On behalf of refugees and asylum seekers in on and offshore detention the award will be accepted by Mostafar Azimitibar and Craig Foster AM

Mostafar Azimitibar (known as Moz) was incarcerated by the Australian Government on Manus Island and, more recently, in the Mantra Hotel and Park Hotel in Melbourne for over 12 months despite being a recognised refugee. During this time, he exhibited an outstanding commitment to raising his voice for human rights and advocating for other refugees publicly and visibly, at great risk to himself. He played a significant role in raising the profile of refugee rights in Australia, empowered other refugees to tell their stories, and contributed to change in the public narrative as well as the eventual release of hundreds of #Medevac refugees in Australia.

Craig Foster AM is an Adjunct Professor, Sport and Social Responsibility, Torrens University and a former Socceroo who came to prominence in the human rights arena for his leadership in relation to a Hakeem al-Araibi, a Bahraini footballer who had been granted refugee status by Australia in 2017. Hakeem was detained in a Thai prison when he travelled to Thailand for his honeymoon, and who faced possible extradition to Bahrain, where he would have faced torture and likely death Craig was the driving force in the successful campaign that obtained the release of Hakeem, which enabled him to return to Australia.

Craig has continued to be a strong advocate of refugees and asylum seekers and has continued to campaign strongly on their behalf.

In 2019, Craig travelled to Port Moresby to meet with refugees and asylum seekers still detained in Papua New Guinea and Nauru to bring attention to their plight.

The Voltaire awards will be presented in Melbourne on Thursday 29 July 2021.

The online event will also contain a live Question and Answer session.

Register for the event. 

Contact: Julia Kretzenbacher, President of Liberty Victoria and Michael Stanton, Liberty Victoria Spokesperson

Ph: 03 9670 6422



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