Labor MP Calls For Witness Of Reza Barati Murder To Be Brought To Australia


The case of Behnam Satah continues to attract attention in Australia with over 18,000 people calling for him to be brought to safety. Max Chalmers reports.

Immigration Minister Dutton has been urged to release the roommate of murdered Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati from immigration detention on Manus Island and allow him to be brought to Australia.

new matilda, behnam satah
IMAGE: Behnam Satah.

Behnam Satah, a 30-year-old Kurdish Iranian who witnessed the murder of Reza Barati during an uprising in the Manus Island detention centre in February 2014, has allegedly been targeted by guards and beaten since emerging as a key prosecution witness in relation to the killing.

In Parliament on Thursday Fremantle MP Melissa Parke escalated the campaign to have Satah moved off the island and resettled in Australia, tabling a petition with over 18,000 signatures calling for his urgent transfer.

“We can not bring Reza Barati back to life, but we can save the life of the witness of his murder,” Parke said.

Fellow Labor MP and former speaker Anna Burke had earlier shared the petition from her Facebook page.

“Indefinite detention of asylum seekers is wrong,” Burke wrote. “The murder of Reza Berati was a tragedy. Failure to protect a key witness has the potential to cause a miscarriage of justice. Please sign this petition.”

Dr Dianna Cousens, the creator of the petition, has written to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull bringing the case to his attention. In a response issued by the Australian Border Force Dr Cousens was told the personal details of Satah’s case could not be discussed.

“The Manus Regional Processing Centre (RPC) is a facility within Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) sovereign borders and as such, the PNG Government is responsible for managing all aspects of the operation of the RPC, such as providing appropriate arrangements and support to meet the needs of transferees,” the letter, dated 27 January, said. “Issues relating to the safety and security of transferees at the Manus RPC are matters for the PNG Government to determine.”

new matilda, melissa parke
Melissa Parke calls for Behnam Satah to be brought to Australia.

Parke has also written to Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton but is yet to receive a response.

Dr Cousens, who has been in contact with Satah since October last year, described the asylum seeker as “very ill”, and said he is experiencing chest pains and serious psychological issues. It is believed the 30-year-old’s symptoms are indicative of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Dr Cousens rejected the notion the issue was exclusively a matter for the PNG government.

“No matter how many fudges we put across, we are responsible for the health of these people,” she said.

Australian based advocates and friends of Satah allege he was tortured in the notorious Chauka compound within the Manus centre in January 2015, and UN special rapporteur Juan Mendez has previously called for Australia to ensure his safety.

Despite the news of Barati’s death shocking the nation at the time, no one has yet been successfully prosecuted for the murder. Next week marks its two-year anniversary.

The trial of two men suspected of taking part, Joshua Kaluvia and Louie Efi, was delayed in October last year.

Despite a Department of Immigration commissioned report airing allegations of the involvement of Australian and PNG nationals in the attack on Barati, none of the former have ever been charged.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has been contacted for comment.

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.