LGBTQI activists have spoken with the two gay journalists detained in Australia after fleeing persecution in Saudi Arabia.
Just.equal co-founder Ivan Hinton-Teoh and Switchboard Victoria CEO Joe Ball visited the couple, known as Sultan and Nassar, on Friday and shared their insights into the treatment of the couple, who remain in detention after claiming asylum in Australia last month.
Hinton-Teoh and Ball revealed in a video posted to just.equal’s Facebook that the “beautiful couple” is continuously protected by a guard as they continue to face grave danger from other people in detention.
“There are currently two gay Saudi journalists in detention in Australia who have come here seeking protection,” Ball said.
“They’re professionals. They’re everyday people.
“They have a guard on them twenty-four hours [a day]. There is a pressing issue here about their safety, and that’s why the guard is with them. They really need to be released.”
“They’ve been detained for about two months since their arrival, and we don’t know how long our government plans to deny them freedom,” Hinton-Teoh added.
“It’s heartbreaking because we just can’t imagine what life is like for these guys. One, they’re in Saudi Arabia, and they have to flee at the dead of night, for their own safety, and now they find themselves in Australia in detention indefinitely.
“It’s just heartbreaking. I just can’t imagine what life would be like for us in their shoes. We’re doing Saudi Arabia’s job by detaining them and making them feel like they’re criminals, and they’re not.”
Sultan and Nassar fled to Australia after they said they were interrogated and threatened by the authorities in Saudi Arabia. The couple, who have lived together for 16 years, have drawn parallels between their treatment in Saudi Arabia and Australia, and allege that they have already been threatened with violence by both guards and other detainees while being held in detention.
“We ran away from being detained arbitrarily and jailed for no reason, only to arrive in Australia and find ourselves here in jail,” Sultan told The Guardian in mid-November.
“We’ve been threatened with it in Saudi but it never actually happened until we came here.”
Sultan is a journalist and former employee with the ministry of media and has assisted numerous foreign journalists in Saudi Arabia as a field producer. Respected journalists from around the world have signed character references for Sultan and Nassar.
The Senate recently passed a motion calling on the government to recognise the increased risk it has placed on the couple by keeping them in detention after they flew to Australia on legitimate visas.
The motion, brought by Greens senator Janet Rice, also urged the government to accelerate the refugee assessment process for the couple and assure their safety in the meantime.
“When these journalists liken their treatment in Saudi to the violence they have experienced here in Australia, it should be a wake-up call,” Rice told The Guardian Australia last week.
“The government should act swiftly to reflect the view of the Senate on this matter and uphold the values of fairness and diversity that our country says we stand for.”
Just.equal’s petition to release Sultan and Nassar can be found here.