Back in 1983, 25-year-old Saeed Dezfouli fled Iran and found asylum in Australia. He became a citizen in 1986 and found work as a court interpreter. But today he is a prisoner and a patient in Sydney’s Long Bay jail where he is involuntarily injected with anti-psychotic medication, according to one of his advocates, Michael Poynder.

Mr Dezfouli was jailed for setting fire to the New South Wales Community Relations Commission office in Ashfield in 2001. In 2004 a jury found him not guilty of manslaughter by reason of mental illness and not guilty of maliciously damaging property by fire by reason of mental illness. Since then he has languished in the prison system.

Currently a patient at the Long Bay Forensic Hospital, Dezfouli has over the past two years vigorously pursued claims against the prison administration for access to his medical records, and to complain against discrimination. He is clearly a determined man.

But now, according to Michael Poynder, who works with a prisoners advocacy organisation in Sydney called Justice Action, every fortnight Dezfouli, is being held down by up to eight staff and forcibly injected with Clopixol, a drug designed to alleviate paranoia and hallucinations.

Poynder says what is happening to Dezfouli is in clear breach of a Health Department protocol which says, “An injection without consent should be given only in the interest of the immediate physical safety of the patient or those in his or her vicinity.”

There is no record, Poynder says, of Dezfouli being violent while he has been in prison.

Worse still, says Brett Collins, who heads Justice Action and has also been nominated by Dezfouli as his primary carer, repeated requests made by himself and Dezfouli orally and in writing over the past two months for the injections to cease have simply been ignored by the prison health authorities.

The claims made by Dezfouli’s advocates are serious and if proven, show that while mental health professionals are bestowed with enormous powers under legislation in each state and territory, when it comes to prisons where mental illness is rife, they are not sufficiently accountable.

This is particularly the case in New South Wales where both sides of the political fence are demonstrably interested only in making sure that prisons are hell holes and that prisoners have few enforceable rights.

Such an attitude on the part of legislators is in clear breach of the law. As former High Court Justice Michael Kirby said in 2004:

“[Prisoners] have lost their liberty whilst they are in prison. However, so far as I am concerned, they have not lost their human dignity or their right to equality before the law.”

The claims made about Saeed Dezfouli need to be investigated independently of government.

Mr Dezfouli may have lost his liberty, but he has the right to refuse treatment and he most certainly has a clear right to ask that a decision to subject his body and mind to involuntary injections of a powerful drug be reviewed before it proceeds further.

Greg Barns is a legal adviser to Tasmanian prisoners advocacy group, Prison Action Reform.