The killing of Hamed Shamshiripour

The very last picture to be taken of Hamed Shamshiripour is too distressing to publish. It looks like the scene of a lynching. In many respects, it is.

A friend of Hamed’s, a fellow asylum seeker, told The Saturday Paper: “For me as a person who has mental health issues, for the first time I saw that picture I could not forget it. Not because of how he was; because I saw myself.”

Hamed’s face is held in great anguish. Blackness fills the sockets of his eyes. His shoulders hang as if responding to a question for which there is no answer.

In death there is the silence that follows great trauma. This last image, this tableau of jungle and resignation, is frozen in violent stillness.

The Australian government is responsible for the death of Hamed Shamshiripour. It is at the hand of this government’s cruelty that he died. We all are held responsible.

The facts of Hamed’s mental illness were well known to Australian officials. He had been processed in our facilities. A year ago, his case had been referred to the Australian Border Force’s chief medical officer.

But the government’s culpability is greater than this. It goes beyond negligence and to design. His death is a kind of state-sanctioned murder.

We know from internal memos that the government has acted deliberately in making the camps inhospitable. Conditions are purposely harsh. This is the point of the system.

The government’s own reports tell it of the effect this regime has on the people trapped inside it. These reports have been studiously ignored.

Last October, The Saturday Paper published a leaked report from the United Nations refugee agency. It found 88 per cent of asylum seekers held on Manus Island were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or depressive illnesses. These had largely been caused in detention.

“These are extremely high rates, among the highest recorded of any population in the world, but a predictable outcome of protracted detention,” the report said.

“The vast majority of asylum seekers and refugees surveyed were asymptomatic prior to arrival on Manus Island. The observed symptomatology is therefore likely to be directly attributable to the effects of prolonged indefinite mandatory detention, and to the violent incidents that most asylum seekers and refugees witnessed and/or were directly involved in at the Lombrum Regional Processing Centre in early 2014 and 2015.”

The last picture to be taken of Hamed Shamshiripour is a picture of a society in moral turmoil. It is the wish of Hamed’s family that it not be reproduced. He must be afforded this final dignity. A greater wish might be that the circumstances for such a death had never been created in the first instance – certainly not deliberately, and not with such grim calculus.

The family is now calling for an inquest into Hamed’s death. This request should be accepted. One likely finding, so obvious as to be orthodoxy to all but the political class, is that Hamed should never have been left to die in the jungle. He should never have been punished for the legal act of seeking asylum. He should have been brought to Australia, as should everyone held in the barbarous system we have the audacity to call processing.

This country goes to great lengths and even greater expense so that ordinary Australians will not see the people we imprison in the camps off our shores. The final irony is that a picture that documents the last moments of one of these men is too terrible to be seen.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 12, 2017 as "The killing of Hamed".

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