24 February 2012
ASIO accused of bullying and harassment towards members of Muslim community
ASIO have been accused of using heavy-handed tactics to communicate with young Muslims from Preston Mosque. The tactics have been described as bullying and harassment and according to a Muslim leader, have created fear and disquiet among the community. It is reported that ASIO have made insistent requests to meet ‘for a chat’ with young Muslim men and in some cases threatened the men with five years imprisonment for refusing to cooperate.
Islamic Society of Victoria secretary Baha Yehia said that ASIO had refused to attend meetings set up with the federal police to discuss the problem. ASIO has said that its dialogues with representatives of varying groups was confidential.
It has been reported that ASIO has become increasingly aggressive after the Islamic Society sought legal advice and held information sessions to inform Muslims of their rights.
ASIO director general David Irvine, in a rare public talk last month stated that future spies will be recruited from newly arrived migrant communities and felt that ASIO needed to do more to reach out to Australian Muslim communities. Mr Irvine admitted that the debate about civil liberties and intelligence gathering was a valid one to have.
Alleged people smugglers falling into ‘legal and administrative black hole’
Australia’s Federal Police have admitted that alleged people smugglers are being detained without charge for an average of 161 days. The admission by the Australian Federal Police has caused human rights advocates to assert that the alleged people smugglers, “have fallen into a legal and administrative black hole.”
The holding of alleged people smugglers without charge for an average for 161 days is in stark contrast to current Australian law which allows people suspected of terrorism offences to be held for a maximum of eight days before they are charged.
Human Rights Law Centre spokeswoman Rachel Bell says “Periods of months and months of detention is just a practice that has no place in a modern democracy like Australia.”
Victorian Government fails to commit to expand funding to Koori Court
The Baillieu Government is yet to commit to expand funding to the County Koori Court despite strong support for the program among the judiciary. The County Koori Court began in 2008 in the Latrobe Valley and has dealt with 57 people since. It has been reported that only one person has reoffended after being seen by the court.
County Court Judge, John Smallwood, has said that considering many defendants have a long list of prior convictions, the low reoffending rate had ‘stunned him’ and has noted that dealing with the elders has a significant influence on indigenous defendants.
Hugh De Kretser of the Federation of Community Legal Centres has said that the County Koori Court had shown “significant promise” and that there was “an urgent need to take action to end the over-representation of Indigenous Australians in the criminal justice system.” Mr Kretser believes that it is of great importance to develop court programs that deal more closely with the needs of indigenous Victorians.
Lack of independent watchdog for deaths in police custody
Anna Brown of the Human Rights Law Centre has drawn attention to the lack of an independent watchdog for deaths in police custody in Victoria.
In the New Matilda article, Anna Brown draws attention to the inability of the Baillieu Government’s new anti-corruption commission to investigate deaths in custody. The article reports that there have been at least four deaths in police custody in 2012, with two car chase incidents in Victoria and the death of young Aboriginal man in Alice Springs.
Ms Brown contends that the issue at hand is that those under scrutiny and those responsible for the investigations are members of the same organisation, leading to the potential for bias in favour of fellow officers.
The article acknowledges that the work of the members of the police force is often hard and dangerous and that much of the good that they perform quite often goes unthanked. However, Ms Brown states that when a life is lost there is significant public interest in finding out exactly what happened.
International human rights law and the Victorian Charter of Human Rights require that deaths in custody must be investigated by a body that is practically, hierarchically and institutionally independent of the police.
Amnesty International’s detention centre visit media release
Following recent asylum seeker detention centre visits around Australia, Amnesty International have released a media briefing last night. Information was gathered from private interviews with asylum seekers both individually and in groups. Interviews were also conducted with staff from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), Serco, International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) and other service providers within the centres visited. Additionally, asylum seekers residing in the community were also interviewed.
The briefing calls for
asylum seekers to be held in detention for a maximum of 30 days;
that centres in remote and isolated area be shut down as soon as possible;
that community processing be expedited especially for long-term detainees, families and unaccompanied minors;
and that asylum seekers in all detention centres be given greater ability to communicate with the outside world via telephone, internet, external visits and also visits from the Australian community.