22 Mar 2014

New probe of PNG detention centre

10:52 pm on 22 March 2014

A Papua New Guinea judge has initiated a new inquiry into the Manus Island detention centre after the PNG government tried to shut down the current inquiry.

Justice David Cannings' initial inquiry has held a week of hearings and on Friday a handful of journalists were allowed to join him on his second visit to the detention centre.

But lawyers for the PNG government obtained a stay order over the inquiry in the Supreme Court in Port Moresby late on Friday. The government is now seeking leave to appeal against Justice Cannings' refusal to disqualify himself from the inquiry over allegations of bias.

The matter will be heard in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, the ABC reports.

But after being informed of the stay order, Justice Cannings promptly initiated a new inquiry into whether asylum seekers' human rights are being denied.

He also ordered that Australian lawyer Jay Williams be granted access to the detention centre to speak to 75 asylum seekers he says are his clients.

Earlier journalists visiting the Manus Island facility reported that damage from the deadly riots at the packed asylum seeker detention centre remains clearly visible.

Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati died and about 70 were injured during violent clashes on 16 and 17 February. Human rights groups have decried the living conditions inside the camp.

Radio New Zealand International's PNG correspondent Todagia Kelola said transferees called out to the judge to air their desperate concerns. They shoulted "look, we've been here for months and when are our things going to be processed" and "how long are we going to be here on Manus''.

ABC reporter Liam Fox said dormitories were tightly packed, and the reporter described some of the toilet and shower blocks as filthy. He said in one block only one of five showers looked to be in working order.

Fresh allegations emerged during the visit about the death of the 22-year-old Iranian asylum seeker last month. The media organisations were not permitted to interview asylum seekers, but AAP reported many spoke openly and shouted to the visiting party.

Detainees alleged Iranian man Reza Berati was thrown from a balcony and beaten.

Detainees alleged Iranian man Reza Berati was thrown from a balcony and beaten. Photo: AAP

Detainees pointed to a black stairwell that snaked up between stacked, white shipping containers that served as four-man bedrooms, saying Reza Berati was first thrown from a balcony before later being beaten to death.

A number of other asylum seekers made the same claim but did not say who hit the Iranian man.

In the compound where Mr Berati was held, the ABC said, there were bullet holes in the roof of an undercover area and a nearby container.

Asylum seekers behind behind a fence on which a sign orders guards to carry the hooked knives used to cut the rope of people who attempt to hang themselves.

A sign on a fence orders guards to carry hooked knives used to cut the rope of people who attempt to hang themselves. Photo: AAP

Release to start 'within months'

Earlier on Friday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the permanent resettlement of asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea could begin within the next two to three months.

Mr Abbott held formal talks with PNG's prime minister, Peter O'Neill, in Port Moresby where the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the asylum seeker agreement, the ABC reports.

He said he knows the resettlement of asylum seekers in PNG is a difficult issue for the country, but he appreciates the "mateship" shown to Australia.

"I accept that depending upon how many of those at Manus are found to be refugees, I accept that it might be hard for PNG to take all of them.

"But we're grateful for the fact that some of them will be here in PNG and we're continuing to work with other countries in our region to ensure that people don't come to Australia if they arrive illegally by boat.'