Original text at: http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2012/s3636091.htm
“MARK COLVIN: A group of asylum seekers charged with rioting at the Australian detention centre on Nauru have had their case adjourned. But not before they staged another demonstration in front of the court.
Jeff Waters is in Nauru for the ABC.
JEFF WATERS: Well there are 14 asylum seekers who were sent to Nauru by Australia, of course, and they’re all facing charges for rioting – three charges each. They’re very serious charges in that they are facing two to seven year prison terms here in Nauru; and the Nauru jail isn’t exactly something that you’d want to stay in I’d have to say, I’ve seen it from the outside.
They got to court, though, and found that they weren’t being given full legal representation. That the Nauruan government here has only appointed a paralegal to represent them in court, to defend them in court, all 14 of them. Admittedly it was only a mention – a hearing where they were supposed to set down a trial date.
But still these asylum seekers stood their ground and refused to take part until they were given proper legal representation. And that created as stand-off outside the court which also resulted in a bit of a protest where they were appealing to the media to try to help them get lawyers.
MARK COLVIN: So to be clear, they’re being prosecuted under Nauruan law; where does Australia stand?
JEFF WATERS: Correct. Well it is strangely through a quirk of history; they’re actually being charged under a 19th-century Queensland rioting Act which the Nauru parliament here passed some years ago. So Australian law in that sense.
But the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship has told us that it is not their policy to supply legal aid to asylum seekers who break the law in another country. They have, however, they say, given them access to find lawyers by giving them access to telephones and to computers to try to find lawyers. But of course there are only about two or three practicing lawyers in this country, with a population of 10,000 and that proved difficult.
Thankfully, however, after a couple of hours, a lawyer who had been engaged here by an Australian refugee activist agency, a non-government organisation, stepped up and said that he would represent them just for this hearing, because they clearly needed representation.
So the case eventually proceeded with interpretation for them in both Farsi and in Arabic, because many of the people were, well they call themselves Persian but we’d call them these days Iranians, refugees. And the court case proceeded and it has been adjourned specifically so that the prosecution and the defence can go away and discuss how these men can be properly represented in court because there aren’t enough, as I said, lawyers in this country to represent them all individually.
MARK COLVIN: Do we know what they’re alleged to have done? What happened in this riot? Even when it was?
JEFF WATERS: I don’t know. I’ve only been told that it was recently, I’m still to nail that down. But I do believe that there’s allegations that some tents were burnt down and it was just, you know, general rioting and some damage to property. They’ve been charged not only with rioting but with damage to property.
MARK COLVIN: And you said you’d seen the jail, what exactly is it like?
JEFF WATERS: Well I think that the only word I could use to adequately describe it, from the outside at least, would be squalid. It looks like a complete mess, it doesn’t look like it’s completed. There are sheets of metal fencing that could only be described as what you’d normally use for reinforcing concrete.
It’s a bit of a mess, you know it doesn’t look like somewhere that you’d really want to send people, particularly for seven years.
In the meantime of course there are still, apparently, and I can’t nail down a figure, people refusing food at the detention centre. And there’s at least one person in hospital who has been going without food for almost a month who is now suffering from internal bleeding. And I’m told he is refusing a drip, but I don’t know how true that is.
MARK COLVIN: That’s Jeff Waters in Nauru”