Phone surveillance begins on Manus, as DIAC blocks access to ChilOut refugee rights website

| January 9, 2013 | Reply

Following asylum seekers sending photos of conditions on Manus Island late last week (2 January), the Department of Immigration has implemented a range of measures on Manus Island to restrict asylum seekers’ ability to communicate with the outside world.

For at least three days following the release of the photographs, the Department of Immigration cut off all communication (phone and internet) from Manus Island as an explicit reprisal for the circulation of the photos. Asylum seekers on Manus Island have told the Refugee Action Coalition phone contact has now been restored but their private phone calls are now being monitored

Meanwhile, on the mainland, asylum seekers’ access to the website of the asylum seeker and refugee rights organisation, ChilOut, has been blocked at Villawood detention centre. The blocking of the ChilOut web site could be directly associated with ChilOut’s criticism of DIAC’s treatment of indefinitely-detained, ASIO negative refugee, Ranjini, as she awaits the imminent birth of her baby boy in detention.

“This latest round of repression continues DIAC’s systematic assault on asylum seekers’ basic rights,” said Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson Nick Riemer. “There is no possible justification for restricting or monitoring phone calls and internet. Refugees have committed no crime. The Manus refugees did nothing other than take photos of the place they live, just as thousands of ordinary Australians do every day. Why are they being treated like criminals? And what possible reason is there for banning asylum seekers access to the ChilOut website?”

“Detainees are already suffering high levels of stress and depression as a result of the circumstances they have fled in their home countries and their treatment by the government,” Riemer continued. “DIAC always claims to care about detainees’ privacy. The fact that phone calls are now being monitored shows exactly how much regard the department actually has for refugees’ privacy and mental health.”

“These big-brother tactics would be inexcusable towards citizens of this country, and they are inexcusable in the case of people asking Australia for protection. People have the right to communicate with their relatives, or anyone else, without the Australian government listening in.”

“If the government is so sure it’s doing the right thing by sending people to Manus and Nauru, why is it so desperate to restrict information about what conditions there are actually like?” Riemer asked.

“Detainees are still confined to the Manus camp even though we were originally told they would be allowed to move freely around the island. Now the circulation of information onto and off the island is also being restricted.”

The Refugee Action Coalition is calling for the Immigration Department to immediately restore detainees’ access to the ChilOut web site and for the Department to cease the restrictions and monitoring of phone and internet access on Manus Island. “The department must lift all restrictions on communications in both its mainland and offshore detention regime,” Nick Riemer said.

An immigration spokesperson said this afternoon (Wednesday, at around 2.30pm) that the blocking of the ChilOut site was a mistake and would be rectified within the hour.

For more information contact, Nick Riemer 0435 533 027, or Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

Category: Press releases

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