Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Unions attempt to stop deportation

BY CHRIS LATHAM

PERTH — On June 1, Iranian asylum seeker Nader Sayadi Estahbanati was deported from Esperance in WA on the Iranian freighter Mazardaran.

In 2000, Estahbanati and two friends stowed away on the Mazardaran to flee persecution in Iran following the Abadan uprising during which 23 people were shot dead and hundreds disappeared. Hosein Iran hid them in the 60-centimetre-high space above his cabin for five weeks.

When they arrived in Australia, Hosein was charged with "people smuggling", but received a suspended sentence because the magistrate found that he broken the law for humanitarian reasons rather than financial gain. The sentence is being appealed and Estahbanati's deportation will impact negatively on subsequent hearings.

During Hosein's case, Estahbanati gave testimony and was named as an enemy of the Iranian state. His picture appeared in the media. He was worried about the safety of himself and his family and friends. Since Estahbanati's brother Nesser voluntarily returned to Iran last month, no-one has seen or heard from him.

Despite lawyers' appeals, on May 29 Estahbanati was drugged in the Perth Immigration Detention Centre and forcibly transported to the Mazardaran, which was docked in Fremantle and about to sail to Esperance.

Under maritime law it is legal to return stowaways to the vessel they came in on. After activists contacted the ACTU for support, they accompanied Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the International Transport Federation (ITF) officials to Esperance to issue a subpoena, obtained by the ACTU, to remove Estahbanati from the ship.

The ship's master initially denied Estahbanati's presence, but then told the officials and activists that they could see Estahbanati if they had legal documents. He added that he would prefer Estahbanati was removed because he did not think the asylum seeker would make it to the next port of call due to his poor health.

Before Estahbanati could be seen, Australasian Correctional Management officers arrived and directed the officials and activists to wait in another room. After several phone calls, they were informed that they could not see Estahbanati, however, the subpoena would be delivered.

The ACTU and ITF asked that Estahbanati be allowed to see a doctor. The doctor later said that Estahbanati seemed in good health, but admitted that he had not seen identification for the patient. He described the man he treated as being 2 metres tall with a beard — very different to Estahbanati's description.

The ACTU has committed to take up Estahbanati's case with the government, and the ITF will discuss it at its conference in Britain next month. The ITF and ACTU are also concerned about Estahbanati's deportation because of the broader implications of merchant ships being used as detention centres and to assist deportations.

From Green Left Weekly #496.

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Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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