Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Prison hulks

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Britain pioneered a new type of atrocity: the prison hulk. Faced with a shortage of jail space, they turned to imprisoning convicts on former warships. The prisoners were subjected to appalling conditions in an overcrowded environment deprived of natural light. Most of those sentenced to transportation to Australia spent time on a prison hulk before being exiled.

Sadly, it seems the present Australian government has decided to ape its former colonial masters:

Family members among 157 asylum seekers being detained on the high seas in separate rooms on a customs vessel are allowed out for meals and ''approximately three hours'' of daylight a day, according to a document lodged with the High Court on Tuesday.


A document filed by the government reveals the national security committee of cabinet decided on July 1, two days after the boat was intercepted, that those on board ''should be taken to a place other than Australia''.

The document says the asylum seekers are permitted ''approximately three hours' outside during the day in natural light for meals'', but says it would be unsafe to give them unrestricted movement.

These prisoners are now in limbo. Detained illegally on the high seas after an act of piracy by the Australian government, Australia will not accept them, and India (their port of origin) does not want them back. Meanwhile, the Australian government believes that Australian law does not apply to them, and that they have no right even to procedural fairness. Which tells us how badly Australia needs a Bill of Rights...