Prime Minister Tony Abbott says there is “absolutely no evidence” to support claims that asylum seekers suffered burns while under the direction of the Australian Navy.
ABC News has obtained footage of asylum seekers being medically assessed for burns on their hands after they were picked up in Indonesian waters on January 6.
Indonesian police say seven passengers suffered burns during a turn-back operation when Navy personnel forced them to hold onto hot pipes coming out of their boat’s engine.
But Mr Abbott, who is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, told reporters “there’s absolutely no evidence” to support the claims.
“These are just claims without any apparent facts to back them up,” he said.
“I have complete confidence in the decency, the humanity and the professionalism of Australia’s naval and customs personnel who I commend for a magnificent job.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said people smugglers had a strong motivation for fabricating stories to discredit Australia’s border protection policies.
Mr Abbott told reporters that people making allegations “should be able to produce some evidence”.
“Who do you believe? Do you believe Australian naval personnel or do you believe people who were attempting to break Australian law?” Mr Abbott said.
“I trust Australia’s naval personnel.”
Indonesian police detective Sam Kawengian says the claims warrant investigation and he has invited Australian authorities to view the evidence.
He said police had filed preliminary reports about what they had seen and been told by the asylum seekers.
Indonesian MP says Australia must investigate claims
Indonesian MP Tantowi Yahya, who is a member of the country’s foreign affairs commission, told ABC’s 7.30 program that Australian officials must investigate the claims of abuse.
“I think we still need to clarify these allegations,” he said.
“If it is true, then the government of Australia has clearly violated human rights of the asylum seekers and at the same time they have also violated the territory of Indonesians.
“I think it is a must for the Australian Government to investigate so the authority of Australia don’t immediately make a statement to the world that there is no violations of human rights of the asylum seekers that was taking place on the oceans.
“I mean your government still has to clarify whether this is true or not.”
The video and the version of events given by the police seems to back up the claims of mistreatment made by the asylum seekers when they first spoke to the ABC a fortnight ago.
Boat passenger Merke Abdullah Ahmed, from Somalia, claims Australian Navy personnel punched some passengers and others were forced to hold onto the hot metal.
“They physically harmed us. Some of the passengers onboard, they tried to complain and speak about just their problems. They just punched [them] … and, you know, fall down on the ground,” he said.
The claims of physical abuse come amid increased tension between the two countries over Australia’s asylum policy and the admission that Australian ships have entered Indonesian waters without permission.
Mr Yahya says Australia should guarantee the safety of all asylum seekers.
“The country of destination should protect them. There should be a guarantee that they will not experience any physical abuse or torture or something like that,” he said.
“Whoever comes to our country, regardless of their intention, they still need to be protected.”