Some thoughts about a movie - and news from The Freedom Bus tour!
Many of us remember Richard Attenborough's movie 'Cry Freedom', set within the context of South Africa's Apartheid Regime.
While the movie depicts the struggle for freedom by black Africans through the character of Steve Biko - and this is done fairly well, most of the time is spent depicting the struggle of the white editor trying to get out of the country to write a book about the events.
As Roger Ebert says:
"This movie promises to be an honest account of the turmoil in South Africa but turns into a routine cliff-hanger about the editor's flight across the border. It's sort of a liberal yuppie version of that Disney movie where the brave East German family builds a hot-air balloon and floats to freedom. The problem with this movie is similar to the dilemma in South Africa: Whites occupy the foreground and establish the terms of the discussion, while the 80 percent nonwhite majority remains a shadowy, half-seen presence in the background."
Freedom Bus tour: In the central body text are some pictures of the Freedom Bus on tour, including shots of campaign chats and of life around the Brisbane Rally. All pictures provided by Anne Goddard, who was ably assisted by her two brats Natalie and Scott. Click on the boxed small thumbnails to open a larger version of the photos. All images copyright Anne Goddard ©.
In Australia, things seem to be exactly the same way in relation to asylum seekers and refugees: while everything is about them, and about the human rights abuses committed to them by and on behalf of the Australian government, we would venture a guess that most words wasted in this area concern the events of Australian politicians.
Australia is not doing very well; previously we took on this attitude in relation to Aboriginal people. For several decades governments decided what was good for Aboriginal people without asking them, and now the agressive, mean-spirited, tricky and manipulative government of John Howard (often called "mushroom John" these days) thinks it knows what is good for Australia: keeping asylum seekers out, keeping the public in the dark about what really is happening, and spending millions of dollars enforcing their 'pacific solution'.
This page can relate some information sent by refugee friends in detention. The word 'FREEDOM' is posted in four languages on this page, in Arabic, Farsi (also Urdu, Hazaran and Dari), in Tamil, and Sinhalese.
We can also offer some images of one of the greatest action projects carried out around Australia: the work of the people of the Freedom Bus - which travelled all around Australia, visiting the detainees and trying to bring some hope and greetings to them in all the detention centres.
The man is 25-year-old Ali Reza who has now been deported back to Iran.
Ali: "Is there anybody here understand us? Is there anybody here understand our feelings? Is there anybody here listening to us? I don't think so, nobody!"
Freedom Bus participant: "We understand you. We are listening to you!"
Ali: "We've been for so long in here, more than 3 years. We have many, many old people. Who! - Who can understand that?!
From Sydney they came after 21 days (referring to The Freedom Bus), but in my 2 years here I have never seen anyone from South Hedland or Port Hedland come and visit us.
Who answer us about that? We got old ladies, old men in here. Waiting for which reason? Who tells us?!
We escaped from persecution, coming to Australia! Not for better life! No! Just for persecution! Just for that! But now I'd rather go back to my hell (Iran), rather than stay in this hell (Port Hedland detention center).
We don't want to die in here. We don't want that fence. Who can answer us. Who give us answer. We were looking for so long for some one, but that bloody man (referring to Philip Ruddock) never came in here to give us answers.
Freedom Bus participant: "We will go to him and get an answer for you!"
Other detainee: "We believe them."
Ali: "Yes! Yes! We believe you! But we don't believe him! We are reading In the newspapers "what!? The bullshit writing about us! We swear! We swear! This is bullshit! This is not true! We are not criminals, we are humans! Same you!"
Freedom Bus participant: [breaking in tears]: "Yes!"
Ali: "Yes. If you got two eyes, I've got two eyes. If you got two hands, I've got two hands. But you are free, we are in the cage. We can't speak loudly, we can't speak with our brothers and sisters in here who are in the same cage."
RECORDING BREAKS UP
Ali: "Who understands this my sister, who understands this my Brother. Nobody! Nobody!"
RECORDING BREAKS UP
Ali: "Into all of that country (referring to the size of Australia), we must only look for you? Only you can come here? Where is the other people?! Why?! Why they don't come in here?"
Freedom Bus participant: "They will. They now have your names and numbers. We have sent your names to the people".
Ali: "You know why? You know why they don't come in here?!"
Freedom Bus participant: "Because ACM won't allow!"
Ali: "No that's bullshit!"
RECORDING ENDS HERE
Ali continues: "They don't come in here because they are ashamed! They are ashamed! Just that! Maybe after that report I'll go to jail. Maybe after that report I'll go to K-Block (isolation block), but that doesn't matter to me. Tell me, why is it only you crying for our feelings?"
Freedom Bus participant: "Because we care for you. We love you, we want you out of there."
Ali: "We are loving too. This is normal. We are humans, not animals. Please tell the Australian people. Tell everybody. And Freedom!"
[calling out to the other detainees, who reply:] "FREEDOM! FREEDOM!"
First posted at: Melbourne Indymedia Site
Request for help and support from leaders of all social work organisations, social welfare and volunteer organisations.
People in Iran are being persecuted by the Despotic religious government because of their strong political opinion and activities which oppose the dictatorship rule of the government.
During these difficult circumstances and hardships these political prisoners desperately require strong support and solidarity from all social groups and human rights organisations.
Meantime in solidarity and unity with all political prisoners and their families, we request to draw the attention of all the International associations, High commissioner of Human rights comission, UNHCR, Amnesty international, Human rights watch, the intellectual groups of the society, journalists, all the Human rights activists and all the Democratic Organisations both inside and outside Iran to support these political prisoners and act for their freedom without any further restrictions and on an immediate unconditional basis.
All the teacher unions united, as earlier, to protest against the regime in Iran for oppressing them with very low wages. More than 12,000 [protesters] gathered and held a strike in front of the parliament and then they decided to move in front of the parliament and president's office. Their demand to protest is to stop this discriminatory and oppressive policy and be provided with comfortable livelihood.
The Islamic Republic declared the strike to be illegal and gave orders to the suppressive forces to obstruct the peaceful demonstration of teachers. During these difficult circumstances the teachers' union sent the message to all the people of Iran and high level political leaders of the regime. Once again the suppressive forces "Ansar Hesbullah" militia used dangerous weapons like Bamboo sticks, knuckle dusters, knives and other weapons. All these people have broken their backs because of injustice and inflation. Many men and women are attacked, injured and arrested. They had been placed in underground dark cells of Islamic Republic.
We Iranian Refugees throughout the detention centres in Australia give our whole-hearted support to "National teachers & students & freedom fighters movement in Iran". We ask for the freedom on an unconditional basis immediately of all the political prisoners and freedom fighters.
When it was happening in 2002, we had a great deal of respect for the people of the Freedom Bus. Read about this important reaching out to refugees:
In August 2001 activists from around Australia converged on Woomera Detention centre to show solidarity with the detainees inside detention and let them know that not all Australians agree with the way they are being treated. From the desperate need for contact expressed by detainees inside Curtin and from a recognition of the need to take the campaign to change Australia's treatment of Asylum Seekers beyond the major cities, the idea for a trip to all Australian detention centres was born.
Anne Goddard joined the bus in Bundaberg. She writes:
I had the great delight to meet up with participants and organisers of the 'Freedom Bus' on it's return leg back into Brisbane. We met up in Bundaberg at a stall I did my best to organise with three days notice of their arrival. I had invited all the media in the area to come along, there was much interest shown on the telephone. The stall was planned for a busy Saturday afternoon in the centre of town.
Unfortunately not a single media presence fronted, and the stall went unreported. I hope that as the publicity these wonderful people receive in other areas filters back, the media will realise what an golden opportunity of first hand reporting they allowed to drive by. Joining the bus with my two children, and another local activist, we set off to Brisbane for fundraising dinner and a rally the following day.
The trip was filled with constant phone calls on their mobiles, (I shudder to think about their bills), live radio interviews and heart wrenching conversation. Getting to know these wonderful people, just a little, was a real honour. I learned that Marie had a daughter the same age as my own daughter Natalie, and that this young girl had been arrested for picking up a note from a detainee at Villawood.
I saw hand written crumpled notes, desperate pleas for help from detainees, urging Australians to realise that they are human beings. I looked through many pages of photographs, happy snaps of the 'mob' on the road, interspaced with tragic images of razor wire fences, and distant detention centres. I heard first hand stories of how the people inside the centres are being treated, stories of highly air-conditioned 'cooling' cells, where detainees are sent for days at a time to cool off with nothing other than a hospital gown to keep warm.
I heard of the desperation of children, separated from their families, learned of detainees that had been 'inside' for years, with no hope for the future. Innocent victims of our crazy world and our insane and evil government policies.
I felt so helpless and distressed by their moving stories, I felt so unable to deal with the indifference that the people of Australia are showing to their fellow humans.
When the bus pulled into Brisbane out the front of the Hall where a dinner had been organised for their return, my delight was hard to hold on to, as hundreds of supporters applauded 'us', I felt quite embarrassed that I had only jumped on board in this tiny leg, but then was re-assured by the long term members, that I was with them in spirit, as the supporters of the dinner and fundraiser were showing now.
And it is that spirit I witnessed grow and blossom over the dinner and the next day at the rally... The unity and bond of spirit we all hold for our fellow human beings and for justice.
This movement is growing, the word is spreading with or without the "Media". We will not stand for torture and deprivation of human rights in our Nation.
It is up to each and every one of us to spread the word and join "us".
Senator Bob Brown
Speech at a Refugee Rally
Parliament House, Canberra
February 12th, 2002
Ladies and Gentlemen
This is today, where thousands of us are expressing a different type of Australia to the shallow and cold Australia which is being misrepresented by our leaders in the Parliament behind us on the hill. This is a warm hearted, caring, loving and accepting multicultural country which has a different message to give through its people to the rest of the world. That is, where there are people who suffer fear of death or persecution. Where there are human beings with red blood coursing through their veins like ours who live in disgusting subhuman and frightening conditions, those people are welcome to this great land of ours to share peace and hope with us.
And we Australians who are humanitarian, and I submit in the great majority, deplore the approach which says other human beings who seek refuge on our shores should be put behind razor wire, deprived of rights and persecuted from the moment they arrive on our shores. >That is not the Australia we stand for.
Moreover, besides expressing the, I am sure, unanimous feeling here today that the razor wire should be removed and that the detention centres should be closed and the refugees should be welcomed into our country. I know they would be welcomed for example to the Brighton camp which welcomed the Kosovars but is now empty in Tasmania. Bring them to Tasmania.
There is this message which is very sobering: If international law were to have penalties and if the Woomera Centre were to be a receptacle for those that breach international humanitarian law, our Prime Minister and Immigration Minister would be behind the razor wire in Woomera - not the refugees.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I applaud your great heart. Many of you have come a great distance to be here today. In our midst are our indigenous original Australians and the newest comers who have been equally mistreated in this land. We will raise this fight. The crowds will get bigger, the heart will get warmer, until the true Australia shows its face again, its sunny face, to the rest of this planet earth.
Finally this, ladies and gentlemen. This morning at St Paul's Anglican Church in Manuka our national leaders prayed to God. Amongst them the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition with the congregation prayed, and let me use their words, I quote: "Let us pray for those for whom each day is threatening, the persecuted and rejected refugees and all displaced persons..." Now I say to the Prime Minister, do not ask God to do what you are empowered to do yourself. There can be no greater hypocrisy than that.
Thank you everybody.