Australia's National Shame
Australians take National Action over Peter Qasim
"Mamdouh Habib came home yesterday after three years in prison in Guantanamo Bay. Lacking the courage or evidence to put him on trial, the US Government has decided to set him free."
"There is another detainee who faces a much bleaker future. He languishes not in Guantanamo Bay but in the Baxter detention centre in South Australia."
His name is Peter Qasim. He has been locked up for 6 years even though he has committed no crime, faces no charges and is not considered a terrorist, an "enemy combatant" or a danger to Australia. This detainee, virtually unknown outside a small circle, faces life-long detention."
This page is about September 9, 2004, the day that Australians had enough and organised a National Day of Action to let the government and the country know about the scandalous treatment of Mr Qasim. There were actions in dozens of locations around Australia.
The page starts with a few newsprint articles, followed by press releases, and then lists some Actions.
28 February 2005: The forgetting of Peter Qasim: Greg Egan writes, Dick Smith speaks out - For many detainees in Baxter their life inside means hell for them, and they talk about 'week in, week out'. But for Peter Qasim life is a matter of 'year in, year out'. This page lists some recently published press articles about Peter, including the transcript of two radio interviews with Aussie Icon Dick Smith, who's taken up the banner for him.
8 March 2005: Life in detention, for seven years - the story of Peter Qasim, Australia's longest-serving detained asylum seeker, continues to make headlines, and some dusty aspects start to unravel. Not even inch by inch, but millimeter by millimeter.
Forgotten detainee only dreams of flight to freedom
Sydney Morning Herald
By Adele Horin
January 29, 2005
Mamdouh Habib came home yesterday after three years in prison in Guantanamo Bay. Lacking the courage or evidence to put him on trial, the US Government has decided to set him free.
What happened to Habib is appalling and defies everything a civilised society stands for. The US trampled on 800 years of human rights progress when it held him incommunicado, assumed his guilt and denied him his day in court. From the Magna Carta of 1215 to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, civilised nations have moved to protect individual liberty from exactly the sort of arbitrary imprisonment the US Government has inflicted on Habib and the other inmates of the Cuban jail.
Whatever terrible scars Habib will bear, he is free. He can see his wife and children, and get a chance to rebuild his life.
There is another detainee who faces a much bleaker future. He languishes not in Guantanamo Bay but in the Baxter detention centre in South Australia. His name is Peter Qasim. He has been locked up for 6 years even though he has committed no crime, faces no charges and is not considered a terrorist, an "enemy combatant" or a danger to Australia. This detainee, virtually unknown outside a small circle, faces life-long detention.
From Indian-occupied Kashmir, Qasim came to Australia as an asylum seeker. His father, a separatist activist, was murdered and Qasim tortured by Indian security forces. His application failed. The Government wanted to deport him to India. Eventually, he volunteered to return. Anything was better than dying in detention. But Qasim has no papers, no proof he is Indian, and India will not take him. He is stateless. So he remains locked up year after year, living in a hellish limbo. Australia doesn't want him. But because no other country wants him either, the Government won't set him free.
Even the famous Iranian asylum seeker Mehran Karimi Nasseri - the inspiration for Tom Hanks' character in The Terminal - was allowed to set up home in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris after he arrived there in 1988 with no papers or passport. France didn't want him, nor any other country, but it didn't lock him up and eventually gave him his freedom.
Qasim should be a household name in Australia. He has spent twice as long in detention as Habib and David Hicks even though he is not suspected of terrorism. It is our own Government that placed him in a situation similar to the detainees in Cuba - one of utter despair with no apparent exit route. Qasim has not been tortured - though severe depression landed him in hospital for months. And unlike Habib, he has visitors and phone calls.
But in other ways his situation is grimmer. While the US Supreme Court has opened the door to legal challenges by the Guantanamo Bay detainees, the High Court in Australia has declared that our Government's actions are legal. By a bare majority (4-3) it ruled last August that failed asylum seekers who have nowhere to go and who pose no danger to the community can be in immigration detention indefinitely. However, even one of the majority judges called the situation "tragic" and said it showed Australia needed a bill of rights.
Indefinite detention may be legal, as things stand, but it is not moral.
This month the US Supreme Court, in a case separate from Guantanamo Bay, also considered the issue of indefinite detention of illegal immigrants - mainly Cubans. It ruled 7-2 that the Bush Government cannot indefinitely hold illegal immigrants. It said that six months was the maximum "reasonable" period of detention.
The Cubans in question were part of a wave who fled after Castro briefly opened the gates in 1980. Many were criminals, released from Cuban jails, who were quickly locked up in the US while others committed crimes in America before their legal residence was established. They have done their time but remain in prison. The US doesn't want them and Cuba won't take them back.
As a defence lawyer said, it was "unpalatable and untenable" to sentence people by default to life in prison simply because their home country did not want them back. The Supreme Court had the gumption to agree.
There was once a time when Liberals in Australia believed in liberty. The freedom of the individual was precious. The core of liberty is that citizens cannot be imprisoned indefinitely at the will of the government. Qasim, now 30, has already spent most of his twenties locked up. He is lost in a bureaucratic quagmire. There is no pressure on the Department of Immigration officials - certainly not from the Labor Party - to resolve the issue speedily. Qasim's last hope is that the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, will use her discretion to give him his freedom.
Yes, we live in the age of terrorism. But Winston Churchill's words are relevant. At the height of World War II, anticipating public opposition to the release of British fascist Sir Oswald Mosley, Churchill said: "Nothing can be more abhorrent to democracy than to imprison a person or keep him in prison because he is unpopular."
The foundation of "all totalitarian regimes, whether Nazi or Communist", he added, was arbitrary imprisonment without trial. Only in times of extreme danger to the nation could such action be excused, and once the danger had passed the person must be released.
Peter Qasim's long stretch is out of proportion to the danger he presents. Freeing him will hardly endanger Australia's image as being hard-hearted towards asylum seekers.
Australia's National Shame:
Peter Qasim's 2191 stolen days
By Greg Egan
phone (08) 9344-8609
2 September 2004
Thursday 9th September 2004 will see a dismal anniversary marked across Australia, with the passing of six years in detention for a 30-year-old man from Indian Kashmir, Peter Qasim.
Peter was born Muhammad Qasim in a small village close to the "Line of Control" that serves as a de facto border between India and Pakistan in this disputed territory. His father disappeared when he was very young, presumably killed by the Indian security forces for his separatist political activities, and a few years later his mother died. A friend of his father took him into his home, but in 1992 Peter himself was detained by the security forces, and held for a week of brutal interrogation.
Traumatised, and afraid that he might be arrested and tortured again at any time, Peter fled the village, and managed to eke out a living and find shelter with sympathetic people in the surrounding district. He lived this way for 5 years, but after militants killed a high-ranking Indian army officer in 1997, he was afraid of being swept up in the subsequent crackdown, and decided to leave the country.
He ended up in Papua New Guinea, but after fourteen months struggling to survive with no legal status there, he crossed to an island in the Torres Strait in a tiny boat with three other people.
Australia's Department of Immigration accepted Peter's story, but decided that he wouldn't face ongoing persecution. After the Refugee Review Tribunal also rejected him, he escaped from Port Hedland detention centre and spent less than a day at large before being caught. He served three months in prisons in Perth, then was moved to the claustrophobic confines of the detention centre at Perth airport. In 2000, he spent four months intermittently hospitalised for severe depression. After stretches in the Curtin and Woomera detention centres, he has ended up in Baxter, near Port Augusta in South Australia.
In August 2003, Peter decided that even the risks he faced in India would be preferable to dying in detention in Australia. He wrote to the Minister for Immigration asking to be returned, and shortly afterwards applied for an Indian passport.
The Indian authorities demanded proof of his identity and nationality; Peter had none. He had had no official schooling, no driver's licence, no electoral registration. If records about him had ever existed back in India, nobody could find them. Unsurprisingly, the authorities also couldn't find anyone who'd admit to knowing this man who'd fled from the security forces. Without any way to prove his identity, he was stuck in detention indefinitely.
Until recently, the Federal court had been releasing people into the community who found themselves in such a quandary, but on 6 August 2004 the High Court ruled that the Migration Act authorised detention for life for people who agreed to leave Australia but found it impossible. Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone declared soon after that she would act as a "safety valve" and ensure nobody was detained forever, but on 31 August she announced that she'd reviewed all the relevant cases, and Peter Qasim was not among those granted freedom.
Why not? The Department of Immigration claims that Peter has been uncooperative and inconsistent in his story. His file reveals a different problem: most of his processing has been conducted without interpreters, because Peter's crash-course in using English in PNG gave him a misplaced confidence, and the Department went along with his decision to speak for himself. Getting by in Port Moresby was not the same as dealing with official paperwork and interviews, and compounded by the Department's own clerical errors and the impossibility of cramming his complex story into the slots on various forms, this has created a mish-mash of seeming contradictions, though in reality Peter has done his best to tell the same true story all along.
Peter is admired by scores of detainees for the selfless assistance he's given them in their own battles with paperwork and bureaucracy, and valued by dozens of Australian friends for his extraordinary wit, intelligence and resilience. But nobody can face life imprisonment for no reason. As Peter once said, even Nelson Mandela in prison had the struggle for his nation's freedom to give him strength, but his own suffering serves no purpose for anyone. He is locked up, apparently forever, because of lost paperwork in India, and a file full of minor errors and misunderstandings in Australia.
Detained until death
Since the Full High Court of Australia last month "approved" that 'stateless persons' such as Peter could effectively be held in an Australian detention centre until they die, Peter's situation is no longer in doubt: Australian politicians have successfully crafted their own sovereign right and legislated that sovereignty, to steal Peter's entire life, just because "he had the audacity" to seek asylum here, which is his right under the International Declaration of Human Rights. They have crafted this legislation, just so Mr Howard can make the political point of 'being strong on border protection'.
- Jack H. Smit, Project SafeCom Inc.
No crime but a life sentence: Kashmiri asylum seeker starts 7th year of detention
6th September 2004
Kris Latona (02) 6680-7462
Kashmiri shepherd Peter Qasim has been detained in Australia longer than any other asylum seeker, beginning his 7th year of detention on 9th September. But this could just be the beginning of his life behind the razor wire. When Immigration Minister Vanstone declined to use power to issue him a humanitarian visa on 31 August, refugee advocates say she 'threw away the key'. Without release on compassionate grounds or even a date for the end of his incarceration, Qasim faces life long detention, although he has committed no crime.
Mr Qasim has been denied refugee status in Australia but cannot be returned to India because he has no papers proving his identity and the Indian government will not recognise him. He is stateless.
"My mistake was asking for help from a country that didn't want me,' says Mr Qasim. "I have asked 80 countries to give me a home but all have refused."
On 6 August, the High Court found that the Migration Act authorised the Australian government to detain stateless people indefinitely, regardless of the prospect of ever being able to deport them. Senator Vanstone said that the law was not unjust because her power to review cases provided a 'safety valve'. However she confirms that Qasim and 12 other stateless men have not been successful in their reviews. She has declined to say what will happen to them.
Qasim was born in Kashmir on 14 May 1974. When he was five his father was murdered by the security forces because of his political activities, and his mother died soon afterwards. As a young man, his own unarmed opposition to the government's policies in the region led to him being detained and tortured by the security forces. After some years in hiding and on the run, he fled country.
Peter passed through Singapore and Papua New Guinea on his way to Australia, but these were places where he had no legal right to remain and there was no way to have his claim for asylum heard.
After Peter's arrival, the delegate of the Minister for Immigration who assessed his claim accepted that he was an Indian citizen from Kashmir and had been tortured, but did not believe that he faced a risk of ongoing persecution. On 20 October 1998 his application for a protection visa was refused.
Peter has written:
"Living without the freedoms that ordinary people take for granted is very difficult. There are small humiliations in detention every day, and sometimes we are treated with great injustice, but the worst thing is not knowing when my imprisonment will end. Even a criminal knows the length of his sentence but I have no such comfort."
Peter counts among his supporters Bob Brown, Carmen Lawrence and Natasha Stott Despoja, who have phoned him in Baxter detention centre to personally give him encouragement and support.
Supporters and friends of Qasim have declared 9th September a National Day of Shame and will hold vigils and rallies to draw attention to his plight and that of the other stateless people in indefinite detention.
No crime but life imprisonment
Rural Australians for Refugees
5th September 2004
Peter Qasim and Eidriess Abdulrahman Al Salih are two of 13 stateless asylum seekers who face indefinite detention in Australia. They are currently in Baxter Detention Centre.
Australia has refused their requests for asylum but the countries of their births will not take them back. Up to 80 other countries have also refused their pleas for a home.
On 6th August the High Court decided that the Migration Act allowed for the indefinite detention of asylum seekers. In response to media questions, Minister Vanstone said her discretionary power to grant visas served as a safety valve. However, on 31st August she told the 13 stateless asylum seekers that she had reviewed their cases and would not be giving them visas.
'What is my crime?' asks Peter Qasim. 'I asked for asylum after my father was killed and I was tortured by the security forces in Kashmir. It was a mistake to ask people who didn't want me, but I have already been punished for my ignorance longer than some murderers and my sentence has no end. Please give me freedom, send me anywhere. You can't ask a human being to live the rest of his life locked up.'
Late last year Eidriess Abdulrahman Al Salih had his statelessness graphically demonstrated. Al Salih, who was born in Kuwait to Sudanese guest-worker parents, was subject to a bungled deportation attempt by the Department of Immigration. He spent 13 days in detention in South Africa and Tanzania while the Department of Immigration tried unsuccessfully to deport him to Sudan or Kuwait. Eventually he had to be returned to Australia.
'After proving that he was stateless Al Salih wasn't given asylum, but locked up again. Now the minister has thrown away the key,' said RAR spokesperson Kris Latona. 'Does she expect that he will die an old man in detention? Will he serve 60 years for being stateless?'
On September 9th Peter Qasim starts his 7th year of detention. Refugee supporters and human rights groups have declared it a National Day of Shame and will hold rallies across Australia.
Kris Latona (02) 6680-7462
Greg Egan (08) 9344-8609
National Day of Shame: Perth
Six Years in Detention
With No Charge
With No Trial
With No End
Thursday September the 9th marks six years in detention for Peter Qasim. He has committed no crime yet he has a life sentence. Where could this be happening? Right here in Australia.
No Mandatory Detention
No Indefinite Detention
No Detention without Charge or Trial
Join us to support Peter and all those detained indefinitely without charge or trial.
When: Thursday September 9, 12:00 noon
Where: 12:00 noon outside the DIMIA offices in the City
(take the overpass over Wellington Street from the train station,
walk until one of the Myer entrances is in from of you.
When you reach that entrance, turn left,
away from Forrest Place and DIMIA is at the end)
Further: Then gather at 12:30 in Forrest Place
Join us there for Street Theatre, a gathering
of people, speakers and stalls (including petitions for Peter).
Organised by RRAN and Project SafeCom Inc.
Contacts (incl. media): Peter (RRAN) 0417 904 329, Phil (RRAN) 0405 101 362, Jack (Project SafeCom) 0417 090 130
National Day of Shame: Canberra
Call to Action:
"People Like Us Locked Up Forever"
- Protest to Change the Law that locks up stateless asylum seekers forever
- Protest that this day begins the seventh year in detention for Peter Qasim from Kashmir
- Come and sign the petitions for Peter and for Change of the Law
Safeguard Australia from remaining a country
whose law gives free reign to abuse of human rights.
Come in black to unite with people in all states of Australia who have called for a National Day of Shame at Peter Qasim's continued imprisonment.
1. Silent demonstration 7.30am - 9.00am
Persons dressed in black will stand at strategic points around the city holding placards. There will be a prominent visual Feature - a person dressed in black in a barb wire cage.
Some of the 30 participants will be from Women in Black, writers' groups and various other groups intent on demanding that such a huge violation of human rights will not be tolerated. We are still looking for people to join this group - if you want to make a silent statement please phone Jane on (02) 6249-8613 or join us at a check point: corner of London Court and Northborne at 7.15am.
2. Rally in Garema Place 12.30 to 1.30pm
Marion Le will be one of the speakers and a vocally talented 'stateless refugee' will sing songs.
Marion is a champion for stateless people and has been working for some of them for a long time now. This denial of justice to stateless persons is not a new issue. She has a lot to say on this issue and has indicated she will campaign against this injustice loud and long.
If possible COME IN BLACK as a symbolic protest.
"Denying Human Rights Harms Australia"
"Locked Up Indefinitely -People Like Us- Change the Law"
"Peter Qasim -7th Year Locked Up- Change the Law"
Free Peter Qasim
Change the Migration Act and debate a Bill of Rights
Contact Details for intending participants:
Jane Keogh, Refugee Action Committee
(02) 6249-8613 or mobile 0409 773 572
Additional Contact for Media:
Marion Le OAM, Migration Agent (02)
6258-1419 or mobile 0419 419 680
National Day of Shame: Melbourne
Today, Peter Qasim begins his 7th year in detention
Peter's father was killed and he was tortured in the fighting in Kashmir.
He can't go back as his government won't recognise him. The High Court says our government can lock him up for the rest of his life. Peter's committed no crime but he has a life sentence.
"Living without the freedoms that ordinary people take for granted is very difficult. The conditions of detention involve small humiliations every day, and at times we are subject to great injustice, but the worst thing is having no certainty about when my imprisonment will end. Even a criminal knows the length of his sentence but I have no such comfort."
Peter believes he is stateless and may now be indefinitely detained by a government department with no sympathy for his situation.
Peter remains keen to help DIMIA deport him and says that he longs for freedom anywhere in the world.
His only hope is Minister Vanstone. Ask her to release him.
Time: Thursday 9th September, 1pm
Location: Beneath the Justice monument, Melbourne County Court, 250 William Street, Melbourne
Contact: Pamela Curr 0417 517 075
Be part of the National Day of Action. Wear black. Bring a sign.
National Day of Shame: Sydney
When: Friday September 10, from 12-2pm
Who: ChilOut, with assistance of Refugee Action Collective
Where: Pitt Street Mall, Sydney
Media contact: Dianne Hiles on 0425 244 667
National Day of Shame: Brisbane
When: 9 September, all day
Who: Mrs Fay Waddington from Wooloowin, QLD
What: Fay Waddington, a 54-year-old woman will wrap herself in chains to stage a 6-hour solidarity vigil outside the Department of Immigration in Brisbane on 9th September.
At 4pm Ms Waddington will deliver a letter to the Department of Immigration. The letter seeks verification of the above facts concerning Peter Qasim's background and questions the inhumanity as well as the economic sense of his continued detention. Ms Waddington has invited like-minded concerned people from religious organisations and political parties to accompany her as she attempts to deliver a letter to the Department of Immigration at 4pm on Thursday 9th.
Where: outside the Department of Immigration (DIMIA) Office
Media contact: Mrs Fay Waddington (07) 3857-6055