Emails show police laughing at an asylum seeker's self harm (Image: DIAC Images/Supplied)

Warning: this article contains mention of suicide and self-harm.

The Human Rights Law Centre has slammed the Morrison government’s continued use of Nauru for offshore processing, saying that leaked emails from Nauru police demonstrate the appalling disregard for refugees and asylum seekers detained there.

Earlier this week, a trove of emails belonging to the Nauru Police Force were published online, purportedly by a group of anonymous hackers protesting Australia’s policy of mandatory offshore processing. 

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These email show that the dwindling number of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia’s offshore processing centres in Nauru are still frequently attempting suicide and self-harming — with threats of self-immolation common.

The internal emails between police also reveal a flippant attitude towards the plight of detainees, as well as a resistance to media scrutiny.

These emails include routine reporting of incidents affecting asylum seekers, confirming that people detained in Nauru continue to harm themselves at high rates.

Wilson Security, which was contracted by the Australian government to run Nauru’s processing centres, briefs the Nauru government, Nauru police, Australia’s Home Affairs and the Australian Federal Police each month on self harm, threats to self harm, hunger strikes, and other incidents.

A slide from a Wilson Security briefing to Australian and Nauruan police agencies (Image: Supplied)

Briefings contain lists of refugees and asylum seekers who are assessed as being a high risk of self-immolation, self-harm or aggressive behaviour. The meeting minutes contain regular incident reports that detail threats and acts of arson, inciting riots and suicide attempts.

The leaked emails also show a detached tone from some of the police who are dealing with these situations. One police officer forwarded an email showing gruesome images of an asylum seeker who had slit their wrists, with a message: “Refer photo evidence of our drama detainee” with a smiling emoji.

Another officer responded to a weekly intelligence update noting a threat to self-immolate: “Was it because of his refugee status as usual?”

The documents show police frequently chalking acts of self harm up to ulterior motives. In 2017, Nauru’s Deputy Police Commissioner Kalinda Blake wrote in an email to all staff that asylum seekers and refugees were intentionally getting in traffic accidents because they thought getting hurt was “the only way of getting off this island”. Other threats are attributed to refugees and asylum seekers trying to get better rooms or get urgent appointments with staff.

Other emails show how the force responded to claims of mistreatment in the centres. One police staff member circulated information about the visit of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and prompted staff to be prepared. 

“I am assuming that there will be claims of human torture taken place in the past by the Nauru Police Force or maybe not. Either way best we be ready and confident to answer,” one said. 

Another one shows the police commissioner forwarding a request from an Australian journalist, about a refugee allegedly being attacked by men on Nauru, to the country’s president Lionel Rouwen Aingimea. He responded: “Leave it. Don’t answer them”.

The Human Rights Law Centre is an non-government organisation which has represented refugees and asylum seekers in Nauru’s refugee processing centre.

The centre’s senior lawyer Scott Cosgriff said the leaked Nauru police emails build on the assaults, sexual assaults and self-harm exposed in the 2016 Nauru Files: “We can now see even more clearly the appalling disregard for the safety and dignity of refugees and asylum seekers held on the island.”

He called Australia’s offshore processing policy an absolute failure.

“Families have been ripped apart. People have died. Hundreds of men, women and children have lost years of their lives and still don’t have any permanent home. The Morrison government must end this dark chapter in our history and close offshore detention once and for all,” he said.

Leaked emails also show how the Nauru Police Force and the Australian Federal Police have responded to the initial hacking.

An email sent by Nauru Police Commissioner Iven Notte criticised Crikey for covering the email leak.

“Crikey is [sic] online publication platform than [sic] can throw any story in the public arena, and we strongly believe that the intention is against the Australian government, to course [sic] damage for the upcoming general election with the offshore processing centre here in Nauru,” he wrote. 

Notte did not respond to Crikey’s request for comment.

A cybercrime investigator from the Australian Federal Police contacted the Icelandic company hosting the email leak and asked them to take it down, even after acknowledging “whistleblower protections and free media” in Australian and Icelandic law, because it is “enabling criminal activity”.

The host, FlokiNET, refused: “The public has the right to know what is happening in Nauru and you will not stop it.”

For anyone seeking help, Lifeline is on 13 11 14 and Beyond Blue is on 1300 22 4636. In an emergency, call 000.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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