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.

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.

 

*Breaking* Protest on Manus

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Happening on Manus Island at the moment. A protest has also been held on Nauru and we will publish a video later.

From Kurdish Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani –

Manus prison is protesting now.All prisons are shouting to Australia that this place is illegal. We are saying that Australia exiled us to this hell by force, has kept us in this prison by force, by threatening us and with much humiliation.

We are asking for freedom. This is our right and the right of any human. We are saying : stop killing people,stop torturing people and stop your cruel policy. We are protesting in loud voices.
This protest shows that still we are alive and strong. We are determined to get our human rights. This protest shows that you can never defeat us and break our determination.

We are asking the world’s people, human rights organizations and independent media to hear our voice, to publicise our voice and think deeply about this inhumane policy that Australia is doing.

This protest is peaceful, the same as our big hungerstrike that we had last year. We don’t need violence because we know what is right. Australia put us in the jail and beat us because of our calling for freedom and our rights.
Australia must respect our peaceful protest at this time. Australia has responsibility for us.

Australia and its Colonial Operations

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by Behrouz Boochani

Yesterday evening an Iranian man wanted to kill himself by cutting his neck. I posted some words about his action but people did not pay serious attention to him. I reported what was happening to him to media and other organisations.

This man claims that an Australian officer beat him and punched him. He wrote a complaint to the PNG police. He was very angry because after a few days he was still not able to access police and put his complaint to them. Yesterday, the officer who punched him was about to leave Manus and his complaint had not been given to the PNG police as he had asked.

This system and these companies, Broadspectrum and Wilson Security do not allow people access to the PNG police, they do not pass on our complaints either. Any staff member who commits a crime is assisted by these organisations and, I believe, the Australian government to leave Manus without going to court.

Remember the officers who raped a local Manusian woman. They were flown out of Manus and were never questioned or charged, or taken to the PNG court. Remember those staff members who helped Joshua to kill Reza Baratti? They were also flown off Manus and never returned to face court.

I, myself, had a suspicious accident when a basketball board fell on my head. I wrote several requests asking to access the PNG police so they could investigate. Again they did not pass on my request or allow me access to the PNG police.

I want to say that all of these happenings are because of colonial thinkings. Australia is exercising colonial power in and against PNG. We can see this too in Australia’s reaction after the PNG Supreme court hearing.

Australia does not want to accept the Supreme court order. Only in a colonial system can you commit a crime and not go to court.

Australia continues its colonial system against Aboriginal people in Australia and now also in PNG.

I believe that yesterday was a very important day because we understood clearly how the Australian government is ruling its prisons in Manus and Nauru under a colonial system.

 

Nauru: Protests Continue with Situation Attracting International Attention

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Protests by the refugees Australia has dumped on Nauru continue and show no sign of stopping and let’s face it they don’t have that much else to do on the sparse 22km square island.

Protests continue on Nauru. Refugees live in tents with dirt floors and moldy roofs. Children must play in the dirt.

Those living in the community who actually find jobs are exploited by Naurans. A woman told me she was being paid $500 working for the government as an administration assistant.

Police do not investigate any crimes committed if refugees are the victims, because the culprits are likely to be relatives or friends.

Protests will continue until this shocking chapter in Australia’s history is over. Actually all of Australia’s history is shocking but we still try to make things better.

 

 

 

Moldy Bread Served on Manus

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Above is a sample of the meals given to men detention by Australia on Manus Island PNG.

It costs Australian taxpayers nearly half a million dollars a year for each detained person.

This is about $4000 per person per day.

Australia pay’s Broadspectrum about $1.2 billion dollars a year to for this.

Refugee advocate Lynne Murphy says –

Surely we should expect better than contaminated meals, mouldy bread, fermenting and befouled beans, rancid meat, and rotten fruit.

Earlier we reported out-of-date food being served.

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