(RSF/IFEX) - In a letter to Immigration Minister Philipp Ruddock, RSF expressed its deep concern about the hindrances met by journalists who wished to report about the asylum-seekers' detention centres set up by the Australian government in Papua New Guinea and on the island of Nauru. "The Australian authorities must cancel their instructions to Papuan authorities barring journalists access to the Manus camp," stated Robert Ménard, the organisation's secretary-general. "The Australian government is once again making use of authoritarian practices to hide the disastrous human rights situation in these centres," Ménard added. The organisation asked the minister to intercede with Papua New Guinea and Nauru authorities so that visas are granted to journalists who wish to report on asylum-seekers' centres.
According to information obtained by RSF, journalists applying for visas to Papua New Guinea have had their requests systematically rejected without explanation. Greg Roberts, a journalist from the daily "Sydney Morning Herald", was the first and only journalist to have gained access to the refugee centre in Manus, an island in the Papua New Guinea archipelago. Roberts received a tourist visa after identifying himself as a "birdwatcher." No sooner had he entered the naval base where asylum seekers (mostly of Iraqi nationality) were detained that he was expelled by personnel from a private security company run by former Rhodesian police officers. The next day, Roberts was warned that the police and Papuan armed forces were "after him." He left the island soon thereafter. Lawrence Bunbun, an official from the Papuan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, acknowledged that the Australian government had announced that "they didn't want anyone going in to see them, that it was not the business of anyone else," under the pretext of protecting the inmates' identities.
The Manus asylum-seekers' centre shelters 360 persons, 80 percent of whom are Iraqi citizens. Doctors and hospitals in the area have confirmed that some inmates had contracted malaria, while others are suffering from tuberculosis and typhoid.
On 26 January 2002, the Australian government established a one-kilometre perimeter around the Woomera (Australia) detention centre and barred journalists from the area. The immigration minister explained that the prohibitive measure corresponded to an "operational decision made by civil protection services in connection with the security of the inmates" (see IFEX alert of 29 January 2002).