Aussie doctors challenge asylum secrecy laws
AUSTRALIAN doctors mounted a legal challenge yesterday against laws which they say silence whistle-blowers at immigration detention camps, after allegations of abuse at the controversial Pacific island centres.
Doctors, lawyers and refugee advocates have criticised the offshore camps on Nauru and Papua New Guinea, alleging some asylum seekers suffer from sexual abuse and mental health problems.
Under Canberra’s tough immigration policy, asylum seekers who try to reach Australia by boat are turned back or sent to the camps. They are barred from resettlement in Australia even if later found to be refugees.
The conservative government brought in the secrecy provisions last year, making it a crime for anyone who works for the immigration department, including contractors, such as medical professionals and aid workers, to disclose information they obtain on the job.
“The way the law stands is that anyone who reports any conditions that they see in the detention centres can face up to two years in jail,” said Barri Phatarfod from Doctors for Refugees, which is behind the legal challenge.
The group argues that the laws breach the protection of freedom of political communication and are therefore unconstitutional.
Ms Phatarfod told reporters that although doctors were professionally and ethically required to report possible abuse of patients in Australia, they could face jail time if they speak out about similar conditions in immigration detention centres. –