Two gay Saudi Arabian journalists detained in Australia while attempting to seek asylum have spoken out about their ordeal, labelling their treatment “unconscionable”.
Last week, The Guardian reported the pair fled their home country after political harassment and threats of being publicly outed. When they arrived in Australia, they were searched, handcuffed and taken to a detention centre.
“We ran away from being detained arbitrarily and jailed for no reason, only to arrive in Australia and find ourselves in jail here,” one of the men, called Sultan, said.
Speaking to The Project on Sunday, he said they were initially “elated” to have made it to Australia but now fear being sent back to Saudi Arabia to face imprisonment or death.
“If we were to go back to Saudi Arabia, we would get immediately picked up and thrown into a prison, and possibly made to disappear,” Sultan said.
“If I had any idea this was going to happen to us, we would have gone to another country. This is just unfathomable. It’s unconscionable what Australia has done to innocent people.”
Saudi Arabia has one of the worst LGBT rights records in the world. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia’s state security agency categorised homosexuality as a form of extremism along with feminism and atheism.
In October, a gay social media personality from Saudi Arabia, 23-year-old Suhail al-Jameel, was arrested and charged with violating public decency laws after posting an image of himself wearing short shorts at the beach.
A petition started last week by national LGBTI equality group just.equal calling on the government to grant bridging visas to the two Saudi journalists has so far collected almost 1000 signatures.
Just.equal founder Ivan Hinton-Teoh OAM said Australia is “doing the job of the Saudi government” by detaining the men.
“These men left Saudi Arabia in fear of persecution and imprisonment. They saw Australia as a country who would understand their plight and provide safety. That they are imprisoned by Australia is just so disappointing. We can do better,” Hinton-Teoh told the Star Observer.
“Immigration Minister David Coleman should easily recognise that journalists working under oppressive regimes will sometimes require sanctuary. That these men have been forced from their country, fearing death because they’re also gay, should only elevate our sympathy, expedite the government process and secure their immediate release into the community.
“I’ve seen comments on social media asking, ‘Why didn’t they choose Canada or New Zealand? They would have received a warmer welcome there.’ The most urgent question we face is, rather, ‘Why has Australia become such a cold, unwelcoming place that we so readily acknowledge we are no longer as humanitarian as other countries?’”