Human rights group petitions for journalists' entry to Manus
Australian human rights group calls for government to be transparent about aslyum seekers' conditions on Manus Island and let journalists in.
An Australian human rights group says its petition calling for the Australian Government to allow journalists into Manus Island's detention centre in Papua New Guinea is gaining traction.
Ben Pynt is the director of Human Rights Advocacy with Humanitarian Research Partners, which is an NGO based in Western Australia.
Mr Pynt told Amelia Langford that Australia's detention centre on Manus Island is off limits to journalists and that needs to change, particularly in the wake of last week's riot.
BEN PYNT: Detention centres have extremely high levels of security in Australia. If you are from the media it's impossible to get in and have any meaningful sort of visit. You're not allowed to talk to asylum seekers, you're not allowed to photograph conditions, that sort of thing. That level of secrecy has been taken to the next level with Manus Island where journalists aren't even allowed to approach the centre or take photos of anybody who's involved with the centre. And we're trying to change that.
AMELIA LANGFORD: Tell me, why is it so important to go and have a look at Manus.
BP: Well, last week's events just highlight exactly why we need media to go in and see what's happening. Manus Island has 94 percent of the local population affected by malaria. That number isn't quite as high in detention because of all the preventative measures we've got in place but the risk is still there. There are also huge risks of disease from bacteria in the water. The water table is often contaminated and it's very difficult to get bottled water in there. The SMH [Sydney Morning Herald] has also reported that mentally vulnerable people are housed in what resemble cages. And that's certainly our understanding from talking to a number of asylum seekers over the course of the last six to nine months. Conditions there are really horrible and it's time that Australia and the rest of the world saw what we're doing to these vulnerable people.
AL: And what has the Australian government said about requests for journalists to go in and have a look?
BP: The government's denied all requests to media and in fact, the only people who have been allowed access are the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Red Cross and Amnesty International.
AL: And what reasons do they give for journalists not being allowed in, or do they give any reasons?
BP: Operational. Operational requirements, no real reason.
AL: Tell me about this petition that your group has started.
BP: Oh look, it was started to raise awareness, but now it's starting to gain traction, we're not going to let it go. It's important that we allow journalists access to detention because we have a right to know what's going on. We also have an obligation to give a voice to the people who are affected by these policies, who at the moment are not being allowed to access the internet and our suspicion is the government is afraid that they're going to release more details about what happened. The phones were turned back on last night after being turned off on Sunday last week, and it's just not acceptable that these people are being held incommunicado.
AL: How many people have signed this petition so far?
BP: 33,500 so far. We're hoping to get it to about 50,000 before delivering it to Scott Morrison personally. If we allow the government to take say another week before opening the centre up to journalists, we believe that's too much time for them to cover up what happened last week. Secrecy enables human rights abuse and we need to know what happened now.
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