PEN Melbourne has been working on the case of Behrouz Boochani – a Kurdish Iranian journalist and writer, currently marooned on Manus Island, a victim of Australia’s off-shore detention policies – since 2015.
As a freelance journalist, Boochani’s work in his native Iran often focused on the preservation of the Kurdish culture and language. He was one of the founders of the Kurdish magazine Werya (Varia). In February 2013, officials from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ransacked the magazine’s offices and arrested 11 of his colleagues. Boochani was in Tehran that day and so avoided arrest. Having been interrogated and warned previously about his writing and work teaching Kurdish culture and language, and having signed an undertaking that he would not continue this, he knew his life was at great risk. Fearing for his safety he went into hiding and later fled the country on 23 May 2013. In July of that year he was among 75 asylum seekers intercepted by the Australian Navy en route to Australia. He immediately asked for asylum in Australia. He was detained on Christmas Island before he was transferred to the Manus Island Immigration Detention Centre in late August 2013, where he has remained.
Together with organisations such as PEN Sydney, Writing Through Fences, Researchers Against Pacific Black Sites, PEN International, and Reporters Without Borders among others, we have spearheaded the campaign to see Boochani’s asylum application processed by the Australian Immigration Authorities, including publishing open letters to the Australian authorities. Over the course of our campaign, on 26 April 2016, we have seen the full bench of the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Supreme Court rule that Australia’s regional processing centre on Manus Island is illegal, owing to the fact that the asylum seekers who were seeking asylum in Australia were forcefully brought into PNG under Australian Federal Police Escort and held at the MIRPC against their will. Those detained remain in an uncertain state even as reports indicate that the closure of the compounds is due to begin at the end of May 2017.
Boochani’s passion for writing and human rights remains. He has continued to write about Kurdish and Iranian politics from detention, in spite of the risk it may pose should he ever be deported to Iran, and some of these articles have been published on Kurdish websites in Iran. His courage as a writer, journalist and activist both on Iran and on Manus Island, compounds the great injustice that his continued indefinite detention and persecution constitutes. We have worked to support Boochani’s writing, aiding him in making connections to publish his articles exposing the treatment of detainees, and supporting him as he writes his memoir.