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March 23, 2011

LEGAL RIGHTS IGNORED AS FEDERAL POLICE INTERROGATE ASYLUM SEEKERS

by refugeeactioncoalitionsydney

Media Release, 23 March 2011

Refugee supporters and lawyers are extremely concerned that Federal Police are ignoring the legal rights of asylum seekers as they press on with interrogations of asylum seekers.

Around 150 asylum seekers on Christmas Island are suspected of being isolated to the gymnasium inside the detention centre as part of investigations and interrogations by Federal police. Earlier reports said 42 people had “disappeared” from the main compounds of the detention centre after being taken away by Federal police.

“We have alerted lawyers and human rights groups to what is happening. There is an urgent need for lawyers to be on Christmas Island to ensure that asylum seekers are not being railroaded. The Federal police have form on these kinds of investigations,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“It seems the people taken away by the police are being held incommunicado. The detention centre is at risk of becoming a mini police state. There is already an inquiry into the police use of tear gas and bean bag bullets. It is irresponsible of the Minister to give them carte-blanche on the island.

“With the Minister threatening to use any convictions to assess character test that could deny visas, there is too much riding on any charges laid for asylum seekers to be left to the mercy of the Federal police.

“We want all Federal police interrogations to be stopped until lawyers can be present. There is an urgent need for human rights observers to be present on Christmas Island to protect the rights of asylum seekers. It is believed that the Ombudsman’s office is sending a detention oversight team to the island next week,” said Rintoul.

In the trial of the Tamils charged with riot in 2009, Federal police admitted they acted unlawfully continuing with interviews even though they knew that asylum seekers had not understood the caution given by police at the beginning of the interviews. The asylum seekers charged did not understand that they did not have to give statements to the police.

Six of the 11 charged with riot and other offences were dismissed at the trial but even asylum seekers found to be refugees had spent another 12 months in detention waiting for the trial to start.

Barrister Greg Barns, of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, has expressed his concern saying, Christmas Island “is a unique situation because criminal matters are so rarely dealt with on the island.

“The issue though, is that every person who is interviewed by an Australian police force, whether it be a federal police force or state and territory police, is entitled as a matter of law to seek legal advice prior to them being interviewed,” he said.

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

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