For two months gay Saudi Arabian journalist Sultan and Nassar* have been sitting in detention waiting and hoping that today could be the day they will be granted bridging visas and set free.
For Nassar, today was that day. But due to a clerical error, Sultan still sits in detention, separated from his partner in the hopes that by Monday, the couple will be reunited.
“We received a call from our lawyer letting us know she had good news, and average news,” Sultan told Star Observer from detention, “Nassar had been granted a bridging visa but I would not receive one until after my doctor’s appointment on Monday.”
What struck the couple as odd was that Sultan didn’t have a doctor’s appointment Monday, Nassar did. They went to the medical centre to check the details and they were right. Sultans next medical appointment is not actually due until late January.
“Apparently Minister Coleman had some concerns about this alleged appointment on Monday and wanted to make sure everything was clear before signing off on my visa.” Sultan told us.
“We explained the mistake and while we both want to be out of detention, we didn’t want to leave each other. We flew halfway around the world to come here and didn’t want to be separated.”
But there was nothing they could do; one was leaving and the other was staying. They’ve had no control over their lives for the past sixty days and that situation hadn’t changed.
Sultan said an emotional goodbye to Nassar and returned to his room. Other than three weeks when Sultan was hospitalised, this is the first time since being in detention the couple have been separated. At least during his hospital stay, Nassar was allowed to visit Sultan three times a week.
“If you are ever going to go to jail, then it is best that you go with your boyfriend,” Sultan laughed, “You’re a team, and it makes things much easier.”
“He is gone, and I am still here trying to adjust. I’m told that all of this will be sorted after the weekend. I’m happy he is free, but for me, to be stuck here because someone made a clerical error is unacceptable.”
Senator Janet Rice has called Sultan to let him know that she had contacted the office of immigration minister David Coleman to try and resolve the mistake, but she was unable to reach him directly. Earlier today, Minister Coleman announced that he has taken indefinite leave for personal reasons; with the Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure, Alan Tudge, taking on additional duties in his absence. Minister Coleman’s staff have said they will look into the situation.
“It’s so frustrating because that’s something I don’t need them to do.” Sultan said, “They can figure out their error later,. All they need to do is sign off on my paperwork and I can get out of here and Nassar and I can be together.”
Thanks to their lawyer Alison Battisson, Nassar has been put up in a hotel and has spent the day with her seeing Sydney and getting accustomed to freedom.
“We were lucky to have Alison as our lawyer; she has known exactly what to do,” Sultan says, “I am lucky that I have influential and powerful well-known friends in the media, but everyone in detention is not as lucky. There are people here who don’t speak English, who don’t have attorneys or influential friends. Those people are just sitting here. They are left here alone. It is quite awful.”
“We left our families behind and there is a distinct possibility that we will never see them again, at least not in Saudi Arabia. But the way that the LGBTQI community has rallied around us has been very heart-warming and endearing.
“The offers of help and support we have received from people while we are in detention has been absolutely amazing. We feel like we have been adopted, and it really makes me look forward to the day that I can get out and interact with Australia’s LGBTQI community.”
*their names have been changed to protect their identities