Over 150 free speech advocates are calling on Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to stop the offshore detention of asylum seekers. A letter has gone from those attending the nation’s top free speech awards, run by the rights body, Liberty Victoria.
The advocates want the ALP to change their policy to support the full resettlement in Australia of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.
Their letter was prompted by the awarding of Liberty’s Voltaire Empty Chair Award to Behrouz Boochani, an asylum seeker and journalist who has been on Manus Island for five years. Given to someone who cannot be at the awards, it was bestowed on Boochani for his activism against offshore detention, including his recently published book, written on a mobile phone, `No friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison’ (Picador Books).
The letter originated with PEN Melbourne, an association of writers dedicated to freedom of speech and expression. Rights advocate Julian Burnside AO QC and Liberty President Jessie Taylor supported the letter and encouraged people to sign it. Said Ms Taylor, “As architects of this policy, the ALP represents the only real hope for a more humane approach to refugees.”
The letter links Boochani’s award to the plight of all people detained offshore and says, “Behrouz Boochani’s plight is emblematic of all the asylum seekers who are currently on Manus and Nauru. The imprisonment of these innocent people serves no purpose other than to punish vulnerable people who are already deeply traumatised.”
The letter and award coincide with the marking of five years of Australia’s offshore detention policy. Thousands protested in cities across Australia to oppose offshore detention and to decry the anniversary on Saturday 21 July, with Boochani’s written message being read at many of the rallies. A total of 1600 asylum seekers, including 123 children, are still in Australia’s offshore detention centres.
Representatives of PEN Melbourne and Liberty Victoria will deliver the letters to Mr Shorten on Thursday.
For further comment or interviews please call:
Liberty Victoria on 03 9670 6422
PEN Melbourne on 0425 797 337