I watched the news and like so many other Australians, I was outraged. Three Al Jazeera journalists, including one Australian, have been imprisoned for seven (and ten) years for doing their job. How could this happen? Wasn’t Egypt supposed to be moving towards democracy? Everyone is saying the verdict is, ‘Wrong,wrong, wrong.’ There is widespread international condemnation.
Amnesty International monitored the trial and said, ‘the prosecution failed to produce a single shred of solid evidence.’
Injustice, rage, shock, horror. So much empathy pours out to these three men, and deservedly so. Yet I wonder at where this empathy has gone when we look at an equally unjust and merciless treatment of others who are labelled as criminals when all they have done is escaped from war and terror. The country they choose as sanctuary, one that was once prided itself on ‘giving everyone a fair go’ has become one that deals out punitive measures. We aren’t talking about a poor developing nation, far from it. And we aren’t talking about high numbers of refugees. The Australian government’s policy on asylum seekers that arrive by boat is to imprison them in offshore detention centres.
These detention centers on Manus Island and Nauru are grossly overcrowded, lack adequate health services and have inadequate water and sanitation. Amnesty International and the UNHCR have criticised them as they do not meeting legal protection standards. These refugees can be held for years while their claims are processed and in 90% of cases they are found to be true refugees. In all these detention centres, those seeking asylum, people who are not criminals, are forced to live with less and less hope. Detention has led to deaths, self-harming and attempted suicide. The asylum seekers are subjected to
“…cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment,” according to Amnesty International.
Where is our outrage?
Where is our sense of injustice?
In trying to make asylum in Australia an unattractive option, our government is neglecting its obligation under the refugee convention and it seems that it isn’t just our sense of fairness that is at stake.
I wonder at how our perception of justice and injustice can be moulded to suit our politics, economies and nationalistic self-preservation.