Across the Void: Behrouz Boochani

Across the Void: Behrouz Boochani

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When the Australian immigration department incarcerated Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist fleeing the oppressive Islamic regime in Iran, they made a huge tactical error.

Seasoned at fighting human rights abuses in his home country Boochani has continued inside the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea.

He’s not the only voice speaking out from inside this prison like facility but he is one of the loudest.

Voices like his will be part of what brings this unjust, unfair system to its knees.

His writing has featured in major newspapers in Australia, and around the world, and is opening up the gates of this prison and exposing the human rights abuses occurring inside.

After several failed attempts I finally managed to record an interview with Behrouz, coincidentally just when he announced he had shot and co directed a film from inside Manus – ‘‘Chauka, please tell us the time’.

This interview was recorded by using Skype from my computer to ring Behrouz’s mobile. Due to this occasionally there’s some odd bleeps and bloops.

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The Chauka bird of Manus Island.
The Chauka bird of Manus Island.

A review of Chauka, please tell us the time.

By Arnold Zable.

‘Chauka, please tell us the time’ is a remarkable film,’ shot on a mobile phone, in restricted and distressing circumstances by Kurdish-Iranian journalist and writer, Behrouz Boochani.

Incarcerated since mid-2013 in the Manus Island Detention Centre, Boochani co-directs the film with Amsterdam based Iranian filmmaker and editor, Arash Kamali Sarvestani.

Far removed from the action, Sarvestani, honours Boochani’s vision, and works with him, across a vast distance, to create a poetic, hypnotic film, which is both a work of great artistry, and a damning inditement of a brutal policy.

At the heart of the film, the central thread around which all the others are woven—is the chauka, a bird that is sacred and central to Manus Island culture.

The camera roams through the centre, and beyond, and conveys the torturous ordeal endured by the 900 men, incarcerated in the prime of their life, for over 40 months now, endlessly waiting, aimlessly pacing, enduring the heat, the erosion of hope, and destruction of the spirit.

The many visual and aural threads include tense phone-calls back home, hinting at family breakdown and the unbearable pain of separation: ‘I am parted from my child,’ one asylum seeker laments in his three-minute weekly call. Referring to a child born after he fled his country, a detainee says: ‘I haven’t had a chance to hold him, touch him or feel his presence’.

We hear the incessant whirring of fans, the dentist-like drill of the fumigation apparatus. We witness the wasted lives of men, their loss of agency: ‘I have no control over this’, says one. ‘Look mum, please don’t cry. Please don’t cry. Look mum, I am stuck here’, pleads another.

Boochani’s mobile phone pans over the cramped living spaces and the tiny cubicles, partitioned by sheets and tarpaulins to create a fragile and claustrophobic privacy.

We hear the comments of broken spirits: ’I prefer to be dead because I have nothing anymore… no one is waiting for me, and I am waiting for no one. I have lost everything.’

There are startling, poetic surreal-like images—rows of empty white plastic chairs leaning against the wire through which can be seen the unobtainable sea; the exuberant, beautiful faces of Manus Island children, dancing just beyond the wire, images of cats, contrastingly free, at home in any space within and without the wire.

The soundtrack compliments the imagery—with two recurring sounds in particular—a haunting Kurdish folksong, sung by one of the inmates, and the chirping of the chauka bird.

The folksong is a lament, a cry of longing, and the birdsong, a homage to Manus Island culture. The theme of the Chauka, and what it symbolises is a brilliant conception.

Through an ongoing conversation with several Manus Island men, we begin to understand the deep significance of the bird, and the ongoing colonial history of the island.

We come to see the cruel irony—the name of a bird that means so much in Manus Island culture, being used as the name for a high security prison within the wider prison, which, for a time, was a place of isolation, and punishment.

We come to understand that the appropriation of the Chauka, as a name for a place of such abuse and suffering, is obscene, and reflective of the neo-colonial system on which the offshore detention system is based.

Also interwoven is an eye witness account of the murder of Reza Barati in February 2014, and eerie footage of a detainee, who at the end of his tether, has self harmed, and is carried, at night, to an ambulance.

The mesmerising rhythm, the recurring imagery, the glimpses of Manus Island culture, the bird song, the sound of the sea, and the intermittent silences, have a powerful cumulative effect.

When we briefly see, at film’s end, Australian Prime Minister Turnbull trying to justify the brutal policy for which his government is responsible, he is condemned by his own words.

He tries in vain to justify the horror, and is revealed as a man in self-denial, representing a government that is, at best, in self denial.

Boochani’s inclusive vision is enhanced by the respect he shows for the Manus Islanders. The mobile phone camera lingers on scenes of island life and culture.

Boochani allows the voices of Manus islanders to be heard. The people of the island are stuck in a terrible dilemma, co opted into the offshore processing system through their desperate need for work.

They are on a lower rung in the camp hierarchy, with the Australian government firmly established at the apex.
Chauka please tell me the time’ is driven by a unique, poetic vision. It is filmed by a man who has an eye for life’s beauty, but also deeply feels its injustices, and cruelties—a man who has personally suffered these injustices.

Boochani is at heart an artist, who works intuitively, and instinctually. He, and his distant partner, Arash Kamali Sarvestani, allow the images, the sounds, the snatches of conversation, to speak for themselves.

They transcend the severe limitations of the circumstances under which the film was shot, to give us a glimpse of hell, juxtaposed against the island’s tropical beauty and fragments of its indigenous culture.

They have documented a specific time and place, and helped expose the horror that is indefinite offshore detention, whilst remaining true to the paradoxical beauty of their art-form, and their deeply humanistic vision of life.

From Manus Prison

Behrouz Boochani

From Manus prison:

Behrouz Bouchani

Yesterday the evidence of shocking abuse of teenage prisoners in the Northern Territory juvenile detention shook Australia. Straight away the Prime Minister announced a Royal Commission and the Northern Territory Corrections Minister was sacked. That is important and valuable that a big part of the society has a strong reaction about human rights abuses in juvenile detention.

But there is a big question and that is, why Australian politicians and people don’t care about those reports that international organisations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, UN committee against torture, and also the Australian Senate inquiry published about abuse, assaults, rapes and torture in Australian prisons in Manus and Nauru.

I give you an example. George Brandis says the Royal Commission about juvenile detention should ask many important things. Why was such brutal mistreatment of detainees allowed to happen? Is there a culture of abuse? Why was earlier evidence of serious problems not acted on enough? And did those people who did the abuse even understand they had a duty of care? These questions are so important and I have a question for this man and other Australian politicians.

Why do you never ask these questions about Manus and Nauru?


It shows that you don’t believe in human rights, and only use this concept for political aims. I mean that the human rights concept is only a cover for your political games and I wonder why Australian people don’t think deeply about the political actions of their politicians.

Human rights is a global value and we don’t have this right to discriminate between people. I know Aboriginal people in Australia are so discriminated against and that must change. They are human, and refugees in Manus and Nauru are human, and there is not any difference between people everywhere. I think that this discrimination shows us that moral values are completely collapsed in Australia and western countries.

We can not say that we believe in human rights and principles, and make discrimination between people. This kind of discrimination directly affects global values and it is dangerous for our civilization. Abuse of any person is wrong, and we need Australian governments to stop abusing people in juvenile detention, and in Manus and Nauru too.

Another point is that this is the best time for Australia to think deeply about the prison concept and find an answer for this question – why is prison a big part of Australian culture?

This a big moment when people and media should continue to ask this question because I know that the politicians are only trying to hide that this is happening under some moral words, and be sure that if Australia does not find an answer this kind of abuse and violence will happen again and again.

Behrouz Boochani is a Kurdish refugee who fled Iran, in danger of his life. He sought protection in Australia but has been incarcerated on Manus Island in immigration detention since 2013.

Inside Nauru: As told by Refugees not Channel 9

A Current Affair’s news crew were the first outside television crew allowed access to Nauru Australia’s refugee dumping ground.

They promise a story that will stun Australians. It is unclear in what way it will stun. Will they portray the prison island in it’s true light or will they provide an honest account.

In all likely hood many will be stunned by just how low ACA will go.

Aside from the fact the government would not have allowed them access to the island had they thought the show would do proper independent journalism, apparently the film crew were followed around by Nauruan government officials and police.

This documentary is made by refugees on Nauru. This is what the government and corporate interests don’t want you to see.

 

Refugee involved in resistance on Nauru Arrested

Nauruan police have arrested a 39-year-old Iranian asylum seeker, Hamid Nadaf, on trumped up charges of “threatening behaviour.”

Hamid was arrested on Friday afternoon, 3 June, around 4pm, near the family compound RPC3, and is now being held in the Nauru jail.

Hamid, his wife and eight-year-old son have been in detention on Nauru since February 2014, and he has played a very active role in the daily protests in the Nauru family compound RPC3, since 20 March this year.

The police refused to allow Hamid’s wife to see him yesterday, Saturday, 4 June and have told his wife that he will be held and brought before the court on 13 June.

Asylum seekers and refugees on the island see his arrest as a clear case of victimisation and an attempt to stifle the daily protests that have spread to refugee compounds across the island. Today will be the 78th day of protest in the family camp.

Protests on Nauru yesterday declared that Hamid was innocent and called for his release. (Videos available on request.)

Police say they are acting on a complaint by a Nauruan citizen who felt ‘threatened’ when they read the contents of a letter that supposedly fell from Hamid’s pocket when he was riding a motor-bike on Friday.

The supposed letter has not been disclosed and in any case Hamid is not able to write in English.

Hamid’s arrest seems to be part of new police tactic to intimidate the protests, now that “attempting suicide” is no longer a criminal offence.

An Iraqi man was arrested, in similar circumstances to Hamid’s, on 6 May, on the basis of a complaint to Nauruan police that the man had made threats to “set fire” or “make an explosion” on Nauru.

“Hamid’s arrest has angered asylum seekers and refugees on the island and has ensured the protests will grow louder and spread further,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“It has also exposed the lack of the rule of law on Nauru, with the police acting as an unaccountable extension of the Nauruan and Australian governments. Hamid and the Iraqi man should be freed immediately.”

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

A Statement from Omid’s Family

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Omid’s funeral notice in Iran

Omid was an Iranian refugee who set himself on fire in Nauru on 27 April. He died in a Brisbane hospital on 29 April. Omid’s funeral was held in Iran yesterday, 20 May. The following is a statement from his family:
“Our hope is gone! Omid is gone forever. He was only 24. “Omid” means “hope” in Persian. His father named him Omid because his birth gave hope, excitement, and life to his small family.

As a child, Omid was so sweet and cute. He loved animals very much. He had built up a small shelter in his house where he kept his pets; they were just like his close friends.


Our Omid had it all: warm, friendly, always smiling, witty, and athletic ability. He was a lifeguard and saved a couple of children. Those kids still come to visit us. His friends describe him as a trustful, amiable, warm, and lovely fella. He was happy and joyful; full of life. It was impossible not to laugh when he was around.


Omid had a catchy slogan that everyone remembers: all his goodbyes were followed by this: “Chakeretam, Nokaretam”, a saying in Persian which implies: you can always count on me for everything. “Chakeretam, Nokaretam”, coming from his mouth, with a broad smile, while he was holding his cap with one hand and tapping your shoulder with the other hand.


There is no word that can express how bitter is his loss for us. Our Omid is gone, our hope is dead; so unbelievable, so sudden! We were counting on him, like always, like what he was saying every time; counting for better future, counting for sweet coming moments.

Omid was doing well, enduring hardships for better future. What happened to Omid’s hope? Who has taken his hope? Who has taken our hope, our Omid? Who has made the life so bitter for him? We lost our Omid, our hope. Who has made the life so bitter for us? The endless bitterness . . .”

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