Ban further isolates asylum seekers on Nauru
An Australian human rights advocate says the Nauruan government's Facebook ban is extremely concerning particularly for asylum seekers who are now further isolated from the world as they continue to be held in Australian run detention centres.
An Australian human rights advocate says the Nauruan government's Facebook ban is particularly concerning for asylum seekers, leaving them further isolated from the world.
There is growing discontent across Nauru after the government last week shut down access to some social media.
The government says it imposed a ban on access to child pornography but the opposition says it has shut down Facebook to end criticism of its actions.
The Human Rights Law Centre's Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, gave Jenny Meyer his response on the social media crackdown by the Nauru government.
DANIEL WEBB: Well I think it's the latest regressive step in a very regressive trend towards reducing transparency and stifling dissent in Nauru. In recent times Nauru has restricted access to the country for the United Nations and NGOs, it's increased the visa fee for foreign journalists by about 4000% which has effectively excluded international media from ever visiting the country, and worst of all the space of a few days last year it effectively ousted its entire judiciary. So all of these steps, what they have in common, is that they undermine what are important checks and balances on government power in any democracy. And so I think understood in that context, this social media blackout can be properly seen for what it is. And that is a further step towards suppressing scrutiny and dissent.
JENNY MEYER: So the Nauru government is saying that they're doing this because child pornography is becoming a problem there and they're trying to preserve their culture and protect children.
DW: There's nothing wrong with that sentiment. And I think that'd be a credible explanation if this was happening in isolation, but it's not.
JM: What are the implications do you think for those people who are currently being held in detention by the Australian run detention centre based on Nauru. How does Australia factor in this equation?
DW: Well I think asylum seekers who are sent to Nauru by Australia, they're incredibly isolated and that's by design from the Australian government. There's a lot of places in the world Australia could send asylum seekers to. It's sending them to the world's smallest Republic, a very remote, isolated island in the middle of the Pacific. So I think these people are very isolated. Social media and Facebook in particular is their lifeline. To family back home, to friends, and support networks elsewhere in the world. And it's very harmful for them and further isolating for them, to have those networks severed. Now I don't know who masterminded this plan to sort of blackout social media, I don't know whether it was the Nauruan government or the Australian government, but what I do know is that its the latest step in a regressive trend and that it will significantly, adversely affect both Nauruan people and asylum seekers that Australia is sending there.
JM: So what do you imagine might happen now? For those people in detention but also like you say the citizens of Nauru who have been essentially disconnected from the rest of the world by means of cutting off this social media. Is this a first? Do you think?
DW: I'm not sure of the answer to that question. I mean there are other countries in the world that restrict access to social media; North Korea, China, Iran for instance. So I think in that sense Nauru is keeping questionable company. Over the last year and a bit, we've seen checks and balances on government power in Nauru eroded.
JM: What can we do apart from fret about the plight of these people, given that we can't even communicate with them as is common place at the moment?
DW: Well I think what's particularly concerning as an Australian human rights lawyer, is that Australia really should be a positive force for human rights protection in our region. But instead Australia's asylum seeker policies have been the catalyst for regression. I mean Australia is breaching international law by locking up asylum seekers indefinitely in really, in conditions the UN has described as 'inhumane' on Nauru. And I think those actions are having a ripple effect that the controversy and the international condemnation that Australia and Nauru have received about the detention of asylum seekers there, has been the catalyst for Nauru's regression on matters of access and transparency. So Australia's asylum seeker policies operate behind a veil of secrecy and increasingly so does Nauru. And Australia really is condoning things it ought to strongly condemn. Both because it needs Nauru's continued co-operation to implement its cruel asylum seeker policies, and it is guilty of the same lack of transparency and lack of scrutiny that Nauru is at the moment.
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