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Guard 'held cattle prod'

Sun Herald

Sunday March 13, 2011

Natalie O'Brien

FOUR asylum seekers, one of them a 13-year-old boy, have given damning accounts of how they were threatened with a cattle prod-like baton during their transfer back to Christmas Island after the funerals of their relatives who died in last year's shipwreck.The three men and the boy described how four guards entered their room at the Villawood Detention Centre in the early hours of Thursday, February 17, woke them and told them to get ready to go quietly or they would be taken by force. All of them said a guard had a black baton about 30 centimetres long, with a wrist strap and with two metal prongs protruding from one end.Refugee advocate Jamal Daoud first raised the allegations a day after the quartet were removed. Now they have been returned to Sydney and, when shown pictures of different baton-style weapons, they each identified an old-fashioned cattle prod as the instrument most similar to those they claim the guard was carrying.All the men and the boy said guards filmed their removal and they have called for the tapes to be released publicly to prove their claims.A spokesperson for Chris Bowen, the Minister for Immigration, said the department "assured them" that the allegations were false.Sandi Logan, the Immigration Department's national communications manager, aggressively dismissed the claims as completely untrue. He has refused to release the video. A department response said "any video is for internal quality assurance and training purposes, and release may compromise client privacy, safety and security".The department also maintains that "none of the Serco staff who work in immigration detention carry any weapons whatsoever".When asked what guards are permitted to carry, the department said it "may agree to the approved instruments for use of control as ASP flexi-cuffs from time to time if a high level of risk is assessed".However, a spokesman for Commonwealth Ombudsman Allan Asher, who has questioned the Immigration Department about the incident, has revealed that Serco guards are also permitted to use ankle manacles and waist restraints but only as a last resort and with prior approval.The Ombudsman's spokesman said it was waiting for a response to its questions to the department. The allegations were first made by Madian El Ibrahimy, an Iraqi asylum seeker who lost his wife and two children in the shipwreck. His account is supported by his brothers and cousin who were all in the same room when the guards arrived to transfer them.Most of the shipwreck survivors have now been moved from Christmas Island and released into the community. The three men, the boy, and an Iranian couple are the only ones who remain in detention in Sydney.The men say they do not know why they are the only ones not to have been released. They told their story about the baton despite some fears that it could affect their applications to stay in Australia.All gave similar accounts of how the guards came into the room shouting and with handcuffs and the baton.They said the guards were wearing T-shirts and normal clothes. Two of them were very big men with shaved hair and there were two blond men.One of them was filming. They said there was another group of guards standing outside their room. They said they were told to "get ready or they would be taken by force".Madian, his brother Ali and the boy Mohammed said they complied with the demands but the third man, Hussain, refused and the guards grabbed him by his arms and legs and carried him outside to a waiting car. All of them said the guards did not hurt them and they did not use the baton or the handcuffs. They said the same guards travelled with them on the plane back to Christmas Island.Other asylum seekers, however, have told lawyers and advocates different methods of removal were used for single men and families. Some families have said that guards grabbed their children and took them away first, to entice them to leave. Others said they were handcuffed during their removal. The department has denied anyone was handcuffed.There has never been any physical evidence produced, but concerns about the use of electric batons, or so-called cattle prods, in Australia's detention centres have been raised on and off for more than a decade.Former Human Rights Commissioner Sev Ozdowski said he had been given many accounts from detainees about cattle prods being used on them but could not get to the bottom of the allegations and left an open finding on whether they were being used or not.Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said he had regularly been told about the use of electric batons dating back to the Woomera and Baxter detention centres, which closed in 2003 and 2007 respectively.Mr Rintoul said the type of weapon had never been identified because the detainees had described a variety of baton-style implements. He said, however, that his group was very confident a baton had been used. "The people were very definite about what they saw."Cattle prods are freely available in Australia, according to Cattle Council chief executive David Inall. Modern versions were usually yellow or red, with black prods not common in the past 30 years. Mr Inall said that "if that instrument is used on humans they would know all about it because they are designed for use on cattle - which have very thick hides".Stun guns, some of which look similar to cattle prods, are illegal. However, they are sold online and are available in Sydney as shown this year when a man was arrested for allegedly carrying out a robbery armed with one.If you have more information emailn.obrien@fairfaxmedia.com.au.If it didn't happen, let's see the video- Editorial, Extra, Page 8Electrifying claims2001HMAS Manoora is used to ferry asylum seekers from the MV Tampa to Nauru as part of the "Pacific solution". An eyewitness alleges that "electric shocks" were used on board.Asylum seekers from the boat known as SIEV 5 say they were beaten and prodded with electrified batons aboard HMAS Warramunga.2002Allegations emerge that an inmate was struck with an electric cattle prod during a riot at Port Hedland in 2001.2003Tear gas and cattle prods were used to end a protest/riot at the Port Hedland detention centre.2005Human Rights Commissioner Sev Ozdowski, inquiring into detention centres, hears complaints from detainees about cattle prod-like instruments being used on them.February 2011Asylum seekers who attended the Sydney funerals of victims of the Christmas Island shipwreck say they were threatened with electric cattle prods and handcuffs if they did not return quietly to detention on the island.

© 2011 Sun Herald

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