Federal Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has been forced to deny claims asylum seekers seeking refuge in Australia have been forced to withdraw statements about a fatal riot in February.
Human rights lawyer Julian Burnside QC said that asylum seekers were offered relocation to Australia in return for withdrawing witness statements about the death of Iranian detainee Reza Barati.
And Labor and the Greens are now demanding answers over the claims
Mr Burnside, an outspoken critic of the Federal Government’s immigration detention policies, made the claim while delivering the City of Sydney Peace Prize address on Wednesday.
He said a confidential source told him witnesses to the death of Mr Barati were offered transfer to Australia if they took back their statements.
Mr Barati, 23, was killed during a riot at the Australian-run Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea in February.
“My understanding is that some people in the Manus Island detention are being offered the opportunity of being taken to mainland Australia on condition they withdraw any witness statements they’ve made,” he told the function at Sydney Town Hall.
However, the Immigration Minister Scott Morrisson has strongly denied the allegations.
“This is a false and offensive suggestion made without any basis or substantiation by advocates with proven form of political malice and opposition to the Government’s successful border protection policies. The government once again rejects these claims,” Mr Morrison said.
But Labor says the minister needs to properly address the claim.
“These allegations are extremely serious and it is important that they are properly tested,” opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles said.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Mr Morrison’s credibility was shot when it came to the Manus Island centre.
Reports of coercion tactics being used on witnesses in the riot investigation had been circulating for some time.
“Clearly something very sinister is happening inside the Manus Island camp and, clearly, the immigration minister wants it kept hidden,” she said.
An official report found Mr Barati suffered a severe brain injury caused by a brutal beating by several assailants and died a few hours later.
Mr Burnside said he was told 13 to 14 people were involved in the death of Mr Barati.
He told the function he had received a sworn statement from an eyewitness about Mr Barati’s death.
“An employee of the detention centre, armed with a length of timber with two nails driven through it, had lashed out at Reza Barati and had brought down two crushing blows on his head,” Mr Burnside said.
He said Mr Barati’s scalp was lacerated and he fell to the ground.
He was then kicked repeatedly by a dozen employees from within the detention centre including two Australians. They kicked him in the head and stomach as he tried to protect himself with his arms, Mr Burnside told the crowd.
He said another employee took a rock and smashed it on Mr Barati’s head with “such ferocity, it killed him”.
Two PNG men were charged with murder but their trial was delayed because they did not have lawyers.
In a wide ranging speech on Australia’s human rights record, Mr Burnside accused both the Coalition and Labor of treating asylum seekers in a cruel and selfish manner.
But he said he was not party political.
“Labor has never contradicted the Coalition’s dishonest message about asylum seekers,” he said.
“The Coalition call them illegal. It’s a lie.
“The Coalition call them queue jumpers. It’s a lie.”