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Call for witness protection

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Lawyers acting for Manus Island detainees today filed an urgent application to the High Court to have witnesses to the death of Reza Berati returned to Australia.

They say local guards at the centre have made death threats against the five witnesses and they should urgently be placed in protective custody in Australia.

The lawyers have also lodged a writ in the High Court, alleging crimes against humanity by both the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments.

Meanwhile, asylum seekers are circulating a petition calling on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to send them back to Indonesia.

Berati, a 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker, died during a riot at the Manus Island detention centre in February.

One eyewitness told the ABC Mr Berati was brutally beaten by a group of guards.

“Two of them were Australians, the rest were PNG locals. They started kicking Reza in the head and the stomach with their boots,” he told the Lateline program earlier this month.

“Reza put his arms up to cover his head but they were still kicking.”

Five witnesses to the alleged murder have told their lawyers that local guards at the centre have made death threats against them.

Ruth Hudson from the Stacks Goudkamp law firm says the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments cannot protect their safety.

She says the identity of one of the witnesses has already been published on the front page of the national newspaper in PNG.

“Reports have been made to the police in Papua New Guinea who have tried to have access to investigate the complaints and have access to the eyewitnesses, and their attempts to get access have been routinely thwarted as well,” Ms Hudson said.

“And so we are gravely concerned about the safety of those eyewitnesses and so the application incredibly urgent to get them back here to Australia.”

Writ alleges crimes against humanity committed by Morrison

In a separate application to the High Court, the lawyers have lodged a habeas corpus writ on behalf of more than 350 detainees on Manus Island.

“A writ of habeas corpus effectively requires the detainer or the person – in this instance, the governments – to bring the detainees before the court and to demonstrate to the court the lawfulness of his or her detention,” Ms Hudson said.

The writ alleges gross human rights violations and international crimes against humanity by the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments, as well as Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.

Ms Hudson said the writ alleged the detainees were forcibly deported in violation of article seven of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

“Secondly they claim that they are being arbitrarily and indefinitely detained for five or more years,” Ms Hudson said.

“The other allegation is that they are being involuntarily detained in torturous, inhumane and degrading conditions including being exposed to possible murder, attempted murder, threats to kill, threats of cannibalism, grievous bodily harm and obviously the very unfit living conditions.

“The next allegation is that they are being detained without access to any legal representation or to the right to judicial review or a fair hearing.”

The detainees have also asked the High Court to establish a judicial inquiry into the alleged human rights violations, to be headed by former High Court judge Michael Kirby.

They say they have suffered serious and profound harm and are seeking damages for pain and suffering.

Meanwhile, a petition is being circulated in the Manus Island detention centre asking Prime Minister Tony Abbott to send the detainees back to Indonesia.

A copy of the petition, obtained by the ABC says: “Mr Prime Minister, we have been under military attack that caused us to lose one of our friends forever after more than seven months of suffering from continuous pressure and humiliation in this prison.”

“Therefore, we all of Manus Island asylum seekers made up our mind and do not want to be settle in Australian anymore, neither in PNG. You are kindly requested to stop wasting Australian’s [sic] taxes here on us and send us back to Indonesia.”

The petition, signed by at least 140 detainees, states that unlike Australia, there were people in Indonesia with “unlimited kindness” that they could stay with while they applied for asylum.

It concludes by saying that if they are sent back to Indonesia, “all humans may forgive Australians for committing crimes against humanity”.

A spokeswoman for Mr Morrison said the Government would not comment on any matters before the court.

“Transferees at the Manus Island processing centres are lawfully in Papua New Guinea,” she said.

“Transferees wishing to return to a country where they have a right of residency can have such travel facilitated.”