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Source: The Guardian

Mar 5, 2023

Several family members of Mr A, from Iran’s Ahwazi Arab community, have been killed by security forces during the Iranian uprising

BY Ben Doherty

A United Nations panel has called for the immediate release of an Iranian political dissident held in immigration detention by Australia for more than five years and has condemned his indefinite incarceration as arbitrary and unlawful.

The 42-year-old man, referred to by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention as Mr A, is a member of Iran’s Ahwazi Arab community.

Several of his family members in Ahvaz, in south-western Iran, have recently been shot and killed by security forces during the uprising against the Iranian government.

“Mr A is entitled to the right to liberty … the appropriate remedy would be to release Mr A immediately,” the UN panel said.

However, Mr A remains in indefinite detention in Australia – despite no criminal convictions – and on an “involuntary removal pathway”, the Australian government insists.

When he lived in Iran, Mr A’s political activism on behalf of the Ahwazi ethnic and religious minority attracted the attention of government security agencies, which arrested him several times – including for wearing traditional Arab dress – forcing him to flee the country in 2010.

His family was arrested after his departure and an Iranian court ordered his house and possessions sold as punishment for him fleeing the country. Two school classmates who were part of the same activist movement – the National Liberation Movement of Ahwaz – were arrested and killed trying to leave Iran.

Mr A arrived in Australia by boat in 2010 and was detained until 2012, when he was released on a bridging visa. He lived in the Australian community for five years, before he was arrested and charged over a laser pointer that was found in a car that belonged to a friend, but that he was driving.

He was found guilty of possessing the laser pointer in a public place “but without proceeding to conviction, the matter was dismissed”.

“Nevertheless, Mr A has remained in immigration detention at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre … ever since.”

The Australian government told the UN working group Mr A has been consistently refused protection because he “was found not to engage Australia’s protection obligations as a refugee or under the complementary protection provisions”.

The government insists his detention is not arbitrary, because “it is reasonable, necessary and proportionate in light of the circumstances”.

But representatives for Mr A told the UN’s working group: “Mr A belongs to a vulnerable minority in Iran. According to his unrefuted submissions, Mr A and his family have been persecuted by the government of Iran because of this.”

It was argued Mr A’s claim for protection should be reassessed in light of Iran’s collapsing security situation and ongoing repression of political opposition.

“In his early years in Australia, Mr A did not understand the Australian legal system and was apprehensive of disclosing his entire story for fear of being forcibly returned to Iran. It was only in June 2011 that he felt reassured that it is safe to provide more information. Mr A has tried his best to cooperate ever since.”

Alison Battisson, the director principal of Human Rights For All, a pro bono law firm representing people in immigration detention, said she shared the working group’s concerns over the human rights impacts of indefinite detention and argued Mr A should be immediately released “in light of its emphatic findings”.

“It is two-faced for the Australian government to publicly condemn the Iranian government for its violent oppression of Iranian protesters, including their imprisonment, while it is locking up Iranian protesters in Australia’s immigration prisons at the very same time,” Battisson said.

Mr A suffers depression due to his prolonged detention and uncertainty about his future, and the UN working group expressed “very serious concern” his mental health has “severely deteriorated” during his detention in Australia.

The panel found Mr A’s indefinite detention was arbitrary and unlawful under international law. And it condemned Australia for its continued insistence his indefinite detention was legal simply because it adhered to Australian domestic legislation.

Australia’s Migration Act – which allows the government indefinitely detain a non-citizen who does not hold a visa – was “an affront to [Australia’s] obligations under international human rights law”, the working group reported, and said the Australian government, in numerous cases of unjustified indefinite detention, had failed to take any action.

Australia should “release Mr A immediately” as well as “ensure a full and independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of Mr A”.

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