Recently, Iranian journalist refugee Behrouz Boochani pleaded from the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea, for global leaders to pressure Australia to end its indefinite detention regime against refugees.
“Australia’s offshore policy is not based on border protection, it is based on torture,” Boochani said. “The Australian government has kept us in this remote island for more than three years and it is clear that they don’t have any plan for settle us here.”
Across the ocean, on mainland Australia, at Don Dale Detention Centre in the Northern Territory, Aboriginal children were thrown, stripped, assaulted, teargassed, held in solitary confinement, and hooded and tied to a “mechanical restraint” chair in treatment that the UN has said amounts to torture.
Effectively employing ‘War on Terror’ tactics against members of its own indigenous population and refugees, Australia’s record on the rule of law when it comes to the weakest members of its society, is abysmal.
Now, as if this hatred is not enough, Australia’s centre-right government is capitalising on a climate of fear and suspicion against Muslims, and is poised to enact a law that will make indefinite detention without trial possible for ‘terrorism’ cases, effectively ensuring the further Guantanam-isation of Australia.
This means that once a person convicted on ‘terrorism’ charges has completed a sentence, their detention can still be extended indefinitely, without the need for a further trial. Though the detention will be reviewed yearly, and an accused may argue in court that they are no longer a threat, the onus would be on the accused to prove themselves within a charged environment.
Not only does this violate the rule of law since it ensures that the state is able to imprison an individual indefinitely with no full court hearing, but the entire process deals with an individual’s behaviour in the pre-crime space, which is open to the interpretation of a judge, acting under broad counter-terrorism legislation.
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, “the definition of a terrorist act has been criticised as being so broad its meaning is unclear”. This has the potential to have a snowball effect on individuals and Muslim communities.
Australia’s dragnet for imprisoning ‘terrorists’ has been cast even wider, with their countering violent extremism programmes (CVE), which allow for the further interference of security agencies into Muslim lives in the pre-crime space. Since they take the lead to a large extent from Britain’s failed PREVENT policy, CAGE’s report detailing the faultiness of the ‘science’ at the heart of radicalisation theories that form the backbone of PREVENT, can be readily applied to CVE programmes, which entrench Islamophobia in policy, but which in Australia also include environmental activism and anti-globalisation activism as targets.
CVE feeds into the highly securitised environment. Prolonged detention without trial targeting Muslims is not new in Australia, but it has not figured prominently in the news until recently. Since 9/11, Australia has enacted 40 new counter-terrorism laws, which legalise a broad election of draconian measures including preventative detention orders (PDOs). PDOs give police the power to detain individuals for 48 hours – which can be extended to 14 days – if it is suspected that they are about to engage in a terrorist act in 14 days from the time they are apprehended. The onus on proving this fact rests solely with police.
Individuals are able to be detained under the PDO regime with no prior history of crime, and without the need for an ongoing investigation. No questioning takes place under a PDO and the individual may only inform one person that they have been detained, and when they do so, they are not allowed to refer to the PDO. This includes to their lawyer, whose contact with the detainee is monitored by police. Informing someone that they are detained under a PDO carries with it a five-year sentence.
This absurd and unjust policy has no comparison in other Western nations and has been criticised for putting Australia on a ‘rights-violative’ approach similar to Israel, India, Pakistan, Singapore, Malaysia, Mozambique and Kenya. Now, new indefinite detention-without-trial laws will add to this legal black hole.
In Australia, there is an atmosphere of fear around Islam. In a recent poll, 50% of Australians voted to stop Muslim immigration altogether. This presents a startling reality: the legacy of Guantanamo Bay – in terms of its wide net, its absurd ‘court’ processes, and its indefinite detention without trial – is being replicated on a large scale in a society that is motivated by fear. This means the majority will not question it.
This policy as well as being politically expedient also financially benefits the prison-security complex. Indefinite detention without trial is a money maker for the kingpins of the private prison industry. When abuse of due process becomes profitable, as is rapidly becoming apparent in the global ‘War on Terror’, then making money usurps civil liberties and efforts to increase profits will accelerate regardless. Those at the bottom of the racial hierarchy feel it most – and this does more to encourage violence than counter it.
It is the business of the prisons to keep their cells full, and Muslims are the next lab rats. But the broad language of its legislation means activists can be targeted too. Not speaking up against this is an omission few of us who are concerned with ethics, peace and freedom, can afford.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)