Behrouz Boochani - 'I will not be silent'

12:15 pm on 6 April 2017

From prison in Papua New Guinea he has co-directed a movie, collaborated with a playwright and is writing a novel.

By telephone the refugee is a guest speaker at conferences and contributes to news agencies worldwide.

A holder of a master's degree in geopolitics and indefinitely detained since 2013, the Kurdish journalist, Behrouz Boochani, has refused to languish in prison.

Behrouz Boochani.

Behrouz Boochani. Photo: Behrouz Boochani

His mission is to expose the human rights violations perpetrated by his captor, the Australian government.

To that end, Mr Boochani must now decide if he will seek resettlement in the United States of America under an agreement made with the Obama administration to take some of the roughly 1,500 asylum seekers detained offshore by Australia.

"I prefer the prison to America," said Mr Boochani. "But I didn't make decision yet."

The 33-year-old fled Iran after 11 colleagues were arrested and six imprisoned for contributing to the Kurdish language magazine, Werya.

In Indonesia, he struck a deal with people smugglers only for their Australian bound boat to be intercepted and its human cargo detained.

Interned at the naval base on Manus Island, Mr Boochani and about 900 men are part of Australia's Pacific Solution.

Their suffering in a make shift prison camp on an equatorial, jungle island in the Bismarck Archipelago, deters other refugees from jumping the queue of displaced people seeking asylum in Australia.

"I don't like to go to Australia," said Mr Boochani when asked if the end game his defiance was to enter the country from where all offshore detainees are now legally banned.

"I don't want to go to a country that tortured me and I don't want to go to a country where there is not any justice for refugees."

The detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island has now been dramatised in a play staged in the Iranian capital, Tehran.

A cast of eight men, one of whom played Mr Boochani, re-enacted the violence and indignity the mostly Iranian refugees have suffered.

The actor playing the role of Behrouz Boochani in the play, Manus.

The actor playing the role of Behrouz Boochani in the play, Manus. Photo: Nazanin Sahamizadeh

For over a year, Mr Boochani collaborated with the playwright, Nazanin Sahamizadeh, feeding her information and stories to shape the script of her play, Manus.

"Two years ago I received some news about Manus Island that really interested me and got me curious," said Ms Sahamizadeh.

"After more research I found that Behrouz Boochani was a journalist at the camp, reporting about the living conditions," she said.

"I interviewed Behrouz and other connections I'd made through him who I later incorporated as characters into my play."

During almost daily communication, Mr Boochani said he passed information to the playwright to help her depict life in detention.

"I could describe the prison and how they are torturing people. Sometimes I could give her ideas to make a character in her play by this case or this story," said Mr Boochani.

"Also I introduced her to refugees that went back (to Iran) from Manus and Nauru. I convinced them to make interviews with Nazanin."

The inhumane conditions on Manus Island were criticised in 2016, by Iran's foreign office, whose deputy minister, Abbas Araghchi, attended the closing night of the play at the end of its two-month season at Tehran's Qashqai Hall.

Ms Sahamizadeh had invited officials from the ministry and said she hoped to take the play to Australia.

Abbas Araghchi (left) with Nazanin Sahamizadeh (right).

Abbas Araghchi (left) with Nazanin Sahamizadeh (right). Photo: Nazanin Sahamizadeh

Another opportunity for Australians to see inside detention on Manus Island is the documentary co-directed and filmed by Mr Boochani on his cellphone.

Chauka, please tell us the time, is an 88-minute collaboration with the Amsterdam based film maker, Arash Kamali Sarvestani.

"He's brave, he's smart, he's humble," said Mr Sarvestani of his co-director.

"We had a really good connection. Everything I wanted to do, he accepted. Everything that he thought, I accepted."

In the past year, the pair has logged over 15,000 minutes of conversation time through a mobile phone application, despite the low internet speed on Manus.

"It was really difficult to send the shots. It took a long time, sometimes to send one 30 second shot it took half a day," said Mr Sarvestani.

"I'm really proud of him. The things that he did, it's not easy."

Arash Kamali Sarvestani.

Arash Kamali Sarvestani. Photo: Arash Kamali Sarvestani

Mr Boochani was in a sombre mood when asked if he would apply for asylum in the United States.

One of the Manusian performers in his documentary had recently passed away and Mr Boochani was on the way to offer his condolences to the family.

"It's really hard to go to America," he explained. "(Australia) has kept me here for long time and tortured me and used me for political aims. It's really hard to leave this island without any justice."

Behrouz Boochani in the Manus Island detention centre.

Behrouz Boochani in the Manus Island detention centre. Photo: Behrouz Boochani

While he admitted the prospect of freedom in the United States was enticing, Mr Boochani was loathed to accept any deal brokered by his Australian jailors.

"If I accept that, it means the Australian government had the right to use me and send me to everywhere that they would like. It means that I don't have rights."

Mr Boochani said the US Department of Homeland Security had arrived on Manus to take photos and fingerprint about 600 men granted refugee status, before the company employed to vet the applicants returned at the end of the month.

"At this moment I am getting advice from friends and lawyers," he said.

"If I be sure that in America I will have this opportunity to show my movie and make a challenge in American court against Australia, or in international court in Europe, then definitely I will leave Manus."

For those refugees not taken in by the United States, Mr Boochani feared they would be sent to Australia's other refugee detention centre on Nauru or left in PNG, countries he described as puppet states of Australia.

He also decried the process that had denied refugee status to 205 men detained on Manus as incomplete and unfair, with the men now being repatriated and deported to their countries of origin.

"I want to start a new life in a safe place. My ideal is go to New Zealand," said Mr Boochani who defined it as "unacceptable" that Australia had refused New Zealand's offer to take some of the detainees.

"But the Australian government should know that anywhere I go, I will continue to fight. When I leave here I will make a challenge against them. I will fight for my rights. I won't be silent."

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