We believe that to continue to detain these three individuals without charge or trial undermines freedom of expression and the right to seek asylum. We urge you to allow them to be resettled in Australia so that they can live, work and contribute to Australian society.
MEAA is calling for the Turnbull Government to resettle in Australia Behrouz Boochani, Mehdi Savari, and ‘Eaten Fish’, respectively a journalist, an actor and a cartoonist who have been detained for several years at the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre, operated on behalf of the Australian government.
We regard these three men, who each fled Iran separately and have sought asylum in Australia, as professional colleagues who can make a meaningful contribution if resettled in Australia.
Boochani, Savari and Eaten Fish are among 900 other refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers detained on Manus Island as victims of the Australian Government’s cruel policy of deterrence and indefinite offshore detention for those who seek refuge in Australia by sea.
They each sought refuge from Iran so they could freely express themselves without fear of persecution or harm, but instead their freedom has been further suppressed in detention.
On February 3, more than 100 journalists, actors, writers and cartoonists joined MEAA in writing to the Prime Minister and Immigration Minister requesting that Boochani, Savari and Eaten Fish be resettled in Australia as soon as possible. See below for the full letter and join the campaign by adding your name.
WE, the undersigned, write as journalists, writers, cartoonists and performers to urge you to allow our colleagues Behrouz Boochani, Mehdi Savari, and ‘Eaten Fish’ to be resettled in Australia.
All three men have sought protection as refugees from Iran and are currently detained at the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre in Papua New Guinea which is operated on behalf of the Australian Government.
Well into the fourth year of their ordeal on Manus Island, and with delays and uncertainties in relation to any US resettlement deal, the three men remain in limbo. To varying degrees, the years of detention have severely impacted their mental and physical health.
• Behrouz Boochani, 33, is a Kurdish journalist. He has worked as a journalist and editor for several Iranian newspapers. On February 17, 2013, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps ransacked his offices in Ilam and arrested 11 of Boochani’s colleagues. Six were imprisoned. He has courageously continued to work as a journalist while in detention, and is a regular contributor to publications in Australia and overseas, often reporting on the situation and conditions on Manus Island. He has been recognised as a refugee and we urge you to allow him to reside in Australia to resume his career as a journalist. Boochani is a Main Case of PEN International, and has been recognised as a detained journalist by Reporters Without Borders. (RSF)
• Mehdi Savari, 31, is an Ahwazi Arab performer. As an actor, he has worked with numerous theatre troupes in many cities and villages in Iran, and performed for audiences in open public places. He was also well-known as the host of a satirical children’s TV show before fleeing Iran. Mehdi is a person of short stature and has met with severe discrimination over his life. His dwarfism has been exacerbated by the conditions and his treatment on Manus Island over the last three years, and he continues to suffer a range of physical ailments and indignities, as well as regular bouts of depression and chronic pain. As he has also been recognised as a refugee, we urge you to facilitate his resettlement in Australia. We also refer you to a resolution passed by the International Federation of Actors congress in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in September calling for his release from detention.
• Eaten Fish, 24, is a cartoonist and artist who prefers to be known by his nom-de-plume. He has recently received Cartoonists’ Rights Network International’s 2016 award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning. His application for refugee status has not been assessed. Since he was detained at Manus Island, he has been diagnosed with mental illnesses which have been compounded by his incarceration. We urge you to allow him to live in Australia until the final status of his claim can be determined.
As journalists, cartoonists, writers and performers, we are aware that the rights we enjoy are matched by a responsibility to challenge and confront tyranny and wrongdoing, to bear witness and uphold truth, and to reflect our society, even if sometimes unfavourably. We are privileged that in Australia we are able to pursue these ends without fear of persecution or threat to our personal liberty.
We believe that to continue to detain these three individuals without charge or trial undermines freedom of expression and the right to seek asylum. All three have courageously continued to practice their vocations on Manus Island despite their incarceration. We urge you to allow them to be resettled in Australia so that they can live, work and contribute to Australian society.
MEAA is joined in this letter by the the International Federation of Journalists, the International Federation of Actors, Reporters Without Borders, the Cartoonists’ Rights Network International, PEN International and members of the global network of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange.
Paul Murphy, CEO, Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance
Alan Fletcher, actor
Abbe Holmes, performer
Adele Ferguson, investigative reporter, The Age
Adil Soz – International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Afghanistan Journalists Center
Alex Miller, writer
Alex Skovron, writer
Alexandra Wake, Journalism Educator, RMIT.
Alexis Wright, writer
Amanda Bishop, actor
Amanda Meade, media correspondent, Guardian Australia
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain
Andrea Goldsmith, author
Andrew Dyson, cartoonist, The Age
Andrew Weldon, cartoonist
Angela Savage, author
Anita Heiss, author and poet
Anna Funder, writer
Anna Goldsworthy, writer and pianist
Arnold Zable, author
Bali Padda, actor
Ben Schneiders, investigative reporter, The Age
Bill Garner, writer and actor
Bunty Avieson, journalist and author
Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Caroline Graham, writer
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Cathy Peters, radio producer
Cathy Wilcox, cartoonist, Sydney Morning Herald
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility Freedom Forum
Charlotte Wood, writer
Chloe Dallimore, actor/President, MEAA Equity
Chris Graham, publisher and editor, New Matilda
Chris Nash, Professor Journalism, Monash University
Chris Wormersley, author
Chrissie Page, actor
Christine McKenzie, writer
Christopher Downes, cartoonist
Christos Tsiolkas, writer and broadcaster
David Pope, cartoonist
David Squires, cartoonist
Debra Adelaide, writer
Delia Falconer, author
Dennis Atkins, national affairs editor, The Courier Mail
Di Martin, journalist and writer.
Don Bridges, actor
Dr Fiona Martin, On Line media academic, University of Sydney
Dr Olivier Jutel University of the South Pacific
Dragan Zivancevic, writer and director
Drusilla Modjeska, author
Elena Carapetis, actor
Elliot Perlman, author and barrister
Emily Bitto, writer
Erik Jensen, editor, The Saturday Paper
Evelyn Juers, writer
Fiona Katauskas, cartoonist
Fiona Press, actor
Fiona Wright, Author
First Dog On The Moon, cartoonist
Francis Greenslade, actor
Frank Moorhouse, writer
Gabrielle Jackson, opinion editor, Guardian Australia
Gail Jones, author
Geoff Morrell, actor
Geordie Williamson, writer and critic
Gina McColl, investigations deputy editor, The Age
Glen Le Lievre, cartoonist
Glenn Hazeldine, actor
Globe International Center
Greg Baum, associate editor, The Age
Helen Dallimore, actor
Helen Garner, writer
Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda
Independent Journalism Center – Moldova
Index on Censorship
International Federation of Actors
International Federation of Journalists
International Publishers Association Media Foundation for West Africa
Ivor Indyk, publisher
Jackie Mansourian, writer
Janet Galbraith, poet and co-ordinator of Writing Through Fences
Jason Klarwein, actor
Jeff Sparrow, writer and broadcaster
Jewel Topsfield, Indonesia correspondent, Fairfax Media
Johan Lidberg, journalist and academic
John Pilger, journalist
John Shakespeare, cartoonist & illustrator, Sydney Morning Herald
Jon Kudelka, cartoonist
Jonathan Mill, performer
Joshua Robertson, Brisbane correspondent, Guardian Australia
Judith Buckrich, writer
Judith Rodriguez, poet
Judy Horacek, cartoonist
June Factor, writer
Karen Middleton, chief political correspondent, The Saturday Paper
Karen Percy, senior reporter, ABC
Kate McClymont, investigative journalist, Sydney Morning Herald
Kerith Atkinson, actor
Kerry Walker, actor
Kevin Brophy, poet and author
Kim Scott, author
Lachlan Woods, actor
Liam McIlwain, actor
Lindsay Murdoch, South-East Asia correspondent, Fairfax Media
Lorna Lesley, actor
Maher Mughrabi, foreign editor, The Age
Marcus Strom, science editor, Sydney Morning Herald
Margot Knight, actor
Maria Tumarkin, writer
Marieke Hardy, writer and broadcaster
Mark Isaacs, writer
Mary-Anne Toy, features editor, The Age
Matt O’Sullivan, transport editor, Sydney Morning Herald
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Watch Norwegian
Melissa Davey, Melbourne bureau chief, Guardian Australia
Melissa Lucashenko, writer
Michael Bachelard, investigations editor, The Age
Michael Heyward, publisher
Michael Janda, business reporter, ABC
Michael Slezak, environment reporter, Guardian Australia
Michala Banas, actor
Michelle de Kretser, author
Michelle Griffin, acting deputy editor, The Age
Mike Seccombe, national correspondent, The Saturday Paper
Mike Ticher, news editor, Guardian Australia
Miki Perkins, social affairs reporter, The Age
Miranda Tapsell, actor
Mireille Juchau, author
Miska Mandic, film-maker
Monica Main, actor
National Union of Somali Journalists
Neil Chenoweth, senior reporter, Australian Financial Review
Nick Feik, editor, The Monthly
Nick Miller, Europe correspondent, Fairfax Media
Nick Moir, photographer, Sydney Morning Herald
Nick O’Malley, senior writer, Sydney Morning Herald
Oslo Davis, cartoonist
Pacific Freedom Forum
Paddy O’Reilly, writer
Patrick Frost, actor
Paul Farrell, reporter, Guardian Australia
Paul Syvret, assistant editor, The Courier Mail
Pearl Tan, actor
PEN American Center
Penny Hueston, editor
Peter Greste, journalist
Peter Hannam, environment editor, Sydney Morning Herald
Peter Ryan, senior business correspondent, ABC
Professor David Robie, Pacific Media Centre
Raimond Gaita, writer and philosopher
Randa Abdel-Fattah, writer
Reg Lynch, cartoonist
Robert Hillman, author
Robert Manne, writer and academic
Robyn Arthur, actor
Rod Emmerson, cartoonist
Rod Mullinar, actor
Rod Quantock, writer and comedian
Roger Patching, journalism educator
Rohan Connolly, senior football writer, The Age
Rory Walker, actor
Royce Millar, investigative reporter, The Age
Sam Gaskin, performer
Sam Wallman, cartoonist
Samah Sabawi, Author and playwright.
Sarah Danckert, business reporter, The Age
Sharon Davis, freelance journalist
Simon Johanson, business journalist, The Age
Simon Letch, illustrator, Sydney Morning Herald
Steph Harmon, culture editor, Guardian Australia
Stephanie Convery, deputy culture editor, Guardian Australia
Stephanie Wood, senior writer, Sydney Morning Herald
Stephen Long, investigative reporter, ABC
Stephen Stockwell, Professor, Griffith University
Stuart Halusz, actor
Tessa Lunney, writer
Thomas Keneally, author
Toni Jordan, writer
Tony Kevin, writer and ex-diplomat
Tracey Spicer, writer and broadcaster
Vigilance pour la Démocratie et l’État Civique
Wendy Bacon, freelance journalist and academic
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
Zev Landes, cartoonist
He has worked as a freelance journalist and for several Iranian newspapers – Kasbokar Weekly, Qanoon, Etemaad – and the Iranian Sports Agency. He published articles on Middle East politics and interviews with the Kurdish elite in Tehran, and with several colleagues, he founded, edited, published and wrote for the Kurdish magazine Werya, documenting Kurdish aspirations for cultural freedom.
On February 17, 2013, officials from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps ransacked the Werya offices in Ilam and arrested 11 of Boochani’s colleagues. Six were imprisoned. Boochani was in Tehran that day and avoided arrest.
On hearing of the arrests he published the information on the website Iranian Reporters, and the report was widely circulated. Boochani feared for his safety and went into hiding. Boochani fled Iran on May 23, 2013. In July of that year he was among 75 asylum seekers intercepted by the Australian Navy en route to Australia.
After initially being detained on Christmas Island, he was later transferred to the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre in August 2013, where has remained since.
He has continued working as a journalist from Manus Island, filing articles and videos for Guardian Australia, The Saturday Paper, New Matilda, The New York Times and other Australian and international publications, while also assisting Australian-based journalists reporting about the situation there. He contributes to a range of Kurdish-language publications, and is collaborating on books and films about life inside the detention centre.
Boochani’s case has been adopted as a ‘Main Case’ by the London-based freedom of expression organisation PEN International, and he has been shortlisted in the journalism category for the 2017 Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Awards.
He has been diagnosed with complex PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), severe OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), Dissociation with panic attacks and somatization. In early 2016, he alleges he was sexually assaulted in the detention camp and is now subject to ongoing sexual harassment and threatening sexual propositions. He also alleges he has been assaulted by guards and police.
Although he is under 24 hour guard in the ‘Green Zone’ —isolation area of Manus Island RPC — this has not halted the ongoing threats of sexual violence.
At this stage, Eaten Fish’s claims for refugee protection have not been assessed due to his fragile mental state. Advocates have urged for him to be flown to Australia for specialist treatment.
His cartoons have been described as “meticulously inked on pages torn from a notepad, [they] document the myriad ways in which the inmates of Manus Island are rendered targets, driven to the edges of endurance in hellish surroundings. In their minute renderings of a teeming, nightmare world, charged with sexual menace, the drawings evoke the infernal paintings of Hieronymus Bosh.”
His case has been taken up by many of Australia’s leading cartoonists, and in September 2016, Eaten Fish was announced to have won the 2016 Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning from Cartoonists Rights Network International.
In the award announcement, CRNI’s Joel Pett said:
“The importance of the work of human rights defenders, artists, cartoonists and writers, such as Eaten Fish, within the prison camp cannot be overstated. Nor can the fact that they are at further risk of violence each time they create, speak, draw or write. Eaten Fish is one of those who’s work as a cartoonist brings to light the horrors that are happening around him . . . We hope that this award will help shine a brighter light on the excesses of this camp. His work is addressed to the critical eyes of the world while exposing the xenophobic and racist policies of the Australian government in their dealings with immigrant refugees.”
Read more: eatenfish.com/
As an actor, he worked with numerous theatre troupes in many cities and villages in Iran, and for a time he was the host of a popular children’s television show in Iran’s Khuzestan Province.
Ahwazi Arabs are the largest Arab ethnic group in Iran, predominantly residing in the nation’s oil-rich south, and have been recognised by Amnesty International as facing discrimination by authorities concerning politics, employment and cultural rights.
On the July 23, 2013, Mehdi undertook a difficult journey by boat to Christmas Island, four days after the introduction of the new Australian government policy, whereby asylum seekers were to be transferred to Manus Island within a month.
On Manus Island, he met with severe discrimination and indignities over the last three years because of his height.
Despite his incarceration, Savari has continued to pursue his career as a performer on Manus Island, overseeing small-scale satirical productions to lift the spirits of the other detainees.
He has been recognised as a refugee and has asked to be resettled in Australia.
In September this year, the 21st global congress of the International Federation of Actors, held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, passed the following resolution:
“To support the call by the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) for the Australian government to release from detention the Iranian actor Mehdi Savari who has been recognised as a genuine refugee and continues to be held on Manus Island.”
MEAA has been a long-term campaigner against the strict media blackouts, secrecy and harsh anti-whistleblower legislation that governs not only the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, but asylum seeker policy in general.
We find these deliberate attempts to suppress reporting about the treatment of asylum seekers and the conditions of the centres to be an affront to press freedom.
As the 2016 press freedom report published by MEAA said:
“We have already had years of refusal by the current government to be open about its activities relating to asylum seekers. Requests for information are met with a blanket refusal to discuss ’on-water matters’. Similarly, questions about what happens in asylum seeker detention centres have been met with silence, obfuscation, and even buck-passing questions to foreign governments. Last year this approach was reinforced by brutal legislation: the Border Force Act now carries a two year jail term if “entrusted personnel” disclose “protected” information.”
But as Guardian Australia reporter Ben Doherty wrote in the same report:
“For years, Australian journalists have noisily and proudly resisted political efforts to restrict them in their work. But they must continue to oppose the suppression of free reportage, on issues of asylum and all others.”
Read the 2016 press freedom report for more.