Last night, as the Australian summer sun finally dipped over the horizon, 15000 Australians gathered by candelight in 750 locations around the country, in a night dubbed Light the Dark by activist organisation GetUp!.
They gathered to remember 23 year old Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati, who died—arguably was murdered—in a violent attack in Australia’s quickly-becoming-notorious offshore refugee camp on Manus Island. Not only was Berati killed, but another 77 other asylum seekers were injured in the violence. One asylum seeker was treated for a gunshot wound in the buttocks—that is to say, he was shot in the back.
While the Australian government has maintained the violence to be a result of rioting within the centre, refugee advocate Ian Rintoul told the Guardian that refugees were attacked inside the detention centre compound by Papua New Guinean police and locals.
Furthermore, there are reports of Papua New Guineans carrying machetes and throwing stones at the refugees.
Australian writer Tara Moss has gone public with unconfirmed reports that a contact on Manus Island
who wished to remain anonymous because they all sign confidentiality contracts, gave me a full run down on the events, before the details became public: the ’20+ shots fired’ (not ‘a couple’ as previously claimed). The spent shells. The evacuation of staff (but not asylum seekers) before the violence began. The fact that people from outside came in and opened fire on the people there.
If true, this news would be truly disturbing, with refugees being abandoned by the Australian workers to vigilante violence.
Regardless, the violence comes in the midst of increasingly punitive Australian policies for the refugees on Manus and Nauru.
An Amnesty International report last year found a litany of appalling conditions in Australian detention centres, including overcrowded centres with no protection from the heat, a limit of 500ml water a day, rapes (which are not being investigated) and insufficient medical care (including prenatal care for pregnant women).
The Guardian reports that one “particular incident left an entire camp exposed to a case of tuberculosis for 44 days.”
Last year, the Liberal and National Party coalition won government from Labor with a pledge to “stop the boats.” While the boats appear to still be coming, the LNP have instead stopped the news, with the increasingly taciturn Morrison ending his weekly press briefings.
Unsurprisingly, Australia’s primarily Murdoch owned right-wing press have ignored the Light the Dark vigils:
As one person put it on Twitter:
“No online coverage today of #LightTheDark in @smh @theage or @australian. Reporting the news or controlling the news?”
That’s right, neither the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age nor the Australian thought that 15000 people gathered peacefully around Australia for candlelight vigil merited a word. Only the national broadcaster ABC and the Guardian reported the story—a pattern which has become all too familiar recently.
Australian Prime Minister Abbott recently attacked the ABC as unpatriotic“you would like the national broadcaster to have a rigorous commitment to truth and at least some basic affection for our home team”–an ominous turn of phrase likely to be followed with funding cuts.
What is clear is that the LNP see any coverage of the inhumane treatment of refugees as unpatriotic, a view that is unfortunately shared by our conservative press, which have by and large supported the government’s policy of silence and disinformation. And sadly, the opposition Labor party support the policy of offshore processing, making for a political consensus that apologises for the institutional violence being meted out against refugees.
In the light of the recent violence, only the Greens are calling for the closure of the Manus Island detention centre and the resignation of Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. But with both major parties and a conservative press baying for refugee blood, it will take many more vigils, and a lot more grassroots political action for this national shame to end. Light the Dark is just the beginning.