14 March 2012

Guantanamo inspired rules leave Australian immigration detention centres off limits

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Recently released documents show that Australian immigration authorities based the restrictions of journalists to the country's detention centres on the notorious Guantanamo Bay facility which holds terrorist suspects.

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Rules preventing journalists reporting freely from the infamous Guantanamo Bay are also in effect in Australia's detention centres.

The documents, released under the freedom of information act, show that Australian immigration authorities insist any journalists or media organisations visiting the country’s detention centres must sign a 'deed of agreement' before entering. The documents show that the deed stated it was 'informed by the current US Department of Defence media access policy for its detention facility at Guantanamo Bay."

The deed of agreement stipulates that any visiting journalist must be escorted at all times by an officer, have limited, if any, 'substantive communication' with detainees and submit any material recorded for review and possible censoring to the authorities before leaving the facility.

The spokesperson for the Australian Greens, Sarah Hanson-Young, said "the idea that [media access] guidelines have, even in part, been inspired by Guantanamo Bay is absolutely appalling - it really shows the attitude of Immigration and the government - they have forgotten that they are dealing with asylum seekers, not criminals or terrorists."

The heads of Australia's largest media organisations gathered together last month to criticise the deed of agreement, labelling it as 'unacceptable censorship'.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen defended the tight restrictions as "the right balance" given "the current climate associated with media ethics and media phone hacking."

Immigration's national communications manager, Sandi Logan also justified the restrictions, saying that they both safeguarded the privacy of detainees, limited publicity which could affect refugee claims and reduced any "risks that during any media visits detainee clients would use the media's presence an opportunity to protest their continuing detention."

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge their Australia visa applications with the Australian Embassy London.

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