This man must be freed

We cannot print his name. We know he has been in immigration detention for seven years. We know his weight has dropped to 45 kilograms. He could die within weeks.

The government’s medical contractors say his condition is critical. Their assessment is plain: “at risk of death from sudden cardiac death, organ failure, overwhelming infection or other effects of prolonged starvation”.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has carried out an “interim measure”, urging the government to release him into the community. It has been ignored. The government does not care about his case.

In photographs the man looks like a Goya etching. His skin is loose and his skeleton is showing through. A bulldog clip holds up his trousers. He has a burning pain in his bones, which friends worry is the leaking of calcium into his blood.

For six weeks, his lawyers have been negotiating with the department. They offered to keep the story out of the press: this is not a protest, it’s a medical issue. He is not on a hunger strike; he is simply too unwell to eat.

“No one with any decision-making power will meet with me directly,” his lawyer says. “When it’s a man’s life – moving away from the medical and the law – it’s just heartless and spineless.”

Last year, he was placed in psychiatric care. After three months, it was recommended he not be returned to detention. The department refused. An attempt was made to deport him. His psychiatrist was not informed and nor was his lawyer. It only ended when he stood up on the plane and declared he was too sick to fly.

For seven years, he has been moved from centre to centre. This is done to detainees to ensure their networks do not become too established. Guards told him he would make new friends. He is scared that if he publicises his case, he will be punished. He believes this is what happened to the Biloela family. He does not want to go back to Christmas Island.

The man’s refugee application has been rejected. The department claims his case was flagged by Interpol. Twice now, Interpol has said it has no record of him. The department has not responded. The phantom notice could cost this man his life.

The only option left is ministerial intervention. The question is no longer whether this will stop the boats, or if that was ever necessary, but rather how many people should die before we accept the system has failed and that it needs to be dismantled. It seems neither major party has an upper limit.

Since 2000, at least 58 people have died in immigration detention. They have died as the direct result of policy designed to punish them for a crime that does not exist. They have died because these policies are built from cruelty and indifference, and the ministers responsible believe any compassion would compromise the system.

Australia will let a man starve to death because killing him is in service of a national obsession with the security of our borders. The depravity of this is a stain on us all.

Scott Morrison: (02) 9523 0339

Peter Dutton: (07) 3205 9977

Alan Tudge: (03) 9887 3890

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 19, 2020 as "This man must be freed".

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