Almost 200 refugees on Nauru arrested as police crack down on peaceful protests
Almost 200 refugees, including several children, have been arrested on Nauru for protesting in the island’s capital, as video has emerged showing refugees being assaulted as they protested peacefully at the weekend.
The majority of refugees were arrested for walking towards the Nauruan police station in Yaren, to protest the arrest of eight others earlier in the day.
Nauru justice minister David Adeang, in confirming 183 were in custody at the island’s jail on Thursday, accused Australian refugee advocates of supporting public disorder and coaching refugees to use social media.
“Police in Nauru took action and arrested them in the same way police in Sydney would if this happened in Pitt Street,” he said in a statement.
At least 40 men are being held in the police cells at Yaren, others are being held in other locations. It is unknown if, and when, they will face a court.
The initial eight were arrested as they walked from the refugee compound to the shops on Wednesday morning.
They were arrested reportedly because they were believed to have been ringleaders in earlier protests over the weekend. One of that group is understood to be 13 years old.
Nauru’s police chief had warned refugees they would be jailed if they gathered publicly in groups larger than three.
The director of Nauru police, Corey Caleb, distributed a four-page document to refugees on Tuesday that said while he respected their “right to expression”, they must desist with public demonstrations.
Asylum seekers inside the detention centre have engaged in a campaign of peaceful non-co-operation, refusing to attend classes or speak with case managers.
Refugees on Nauru live in the community. They are restricted by government decree in where they can go: they cannot visit schools, the hospital, the harbour or airport, but are, usually, free to move about the small island.
A group of refugees staged a series of public demonstrations over the weekend, protesting their resettlement and living conditions on the island.
Video from the island at the weekend shows police clashing with demonstrators, including women and children, and it shows one man attacking a refugee as he peaceably filmed the demonstration.
The video, shot on mobile phone, shows a group of demonstrators walking slowly towards a police line on a road.
The group is noisy, chanting “justice”, but peaceful. Several protesters have their hands crossed above their heads and some are kneeling.
A policeman holds up his hand to stop the protesters.
As the protesters come close to the police, scuffles break out between police and some demonstrators, including one woman wearing a chador.
One refugee close to the camera is filming the demonstration on his mobile phone.
A Nauruan man, not wearing any uniform, steps from behind the police line to punch the refugee in the face while he is not looking.
The refugee staggers, and drops his phone, but picks it back up and resumes filming. He does not retaliate.
The assailant retreats behind the line of police officers.
The Nauru government has said protesters threw stones at police, injuring three and damaging a car.
Nauruan president Baron Waqa said in a statement: “There has been no violence against refugees from police, but police will continue to enforce the law, which includes preventing mobile protests that endanger lives”.
The emergence of the video comes as refugees and asylum seekers were given a four-page document from Corey Caleb, the director of police of Nauru.
Calls to Caleb from Guardian Australia were not returned.
President Waqa has said “faceless people” in Australia were inciting resistance on Nauru.
“Refugees [are] safe in the country and talk to the contrary is blatant lies spread by Australian advocates and lawyers,” he said in a statement.
“We believe they are being directed by faceless people in Australia.”
The Australian immigration department has said the protests are a matter for Nauruan authorities.
Immigration minister Peter Dutton said refugee protests would not influence the government’s commitment to its regional resettlement policy.
“If people who have been resettled on Nauru believe that these activities will change Australia’s position – they are wrong ... those who come illegally by boat will never be settled in Australia.”
He said refugees should treat the people and government of Nauru with “gratitude and respect”.
“I believe Nauru’s authorities have acted with restraint in the face of some days of these provocative actions and understandably Nauru’s police will deal with any breacheionion.s of Nauruan law. If people breach the law then they should expect to face the consequences of their actions.”
Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said Nauru’s collaboration with the Australian government on asylum seekers had damaged its human rights record and heavy-handed policing to stifle protests would further harm its international reputation.
“As more and more refugees are released into the community on Nauru, the political and social problems for the Nauruan government will grow,” Rintoul said. “The refugees being warehoused for the Australian government are being denied resettlement and are essentially confined to Nauru against their will, as a permanently deprived underclass, with no future.”
Australian authorities continue with their Pontius Pilate impersonation.
Like the kid says, it's not fair.