Dear Ms Masha Alyokhina and Ms Nadya Tolokonnikova,
We are a group of women who have recently read that you will speak at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas #FODI in Sydney, Australia. We understand you will be in conversation with journalist, Ms Masha Gessen, about your work for Zona Prava, about Putin’s and the state oppression of your people and about your activist and art work and punk music, as part of Pussy Riot. We have been following this work and your more recent fight against prison conditions.
We are greatly concerned about another group who are also detained and some of whom have undergone torture, imprisonment and a lack of freedom of movement. We are highly disturbed with how the government is treating this group, namely refugees who come by boat, and with how refugees are indefinitely detained in conditions that amount to human rights abuses.
We ask that you both choose to not speak at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas #FODI and choose another forum to get your important messages out. We request this because the hosts behind this festival, the St James Ethics Centre and its foundation (the St James Ethics Centre Foundation), have strong links to the indefinite detention of refugees. The cultural aspect of this event helps to soften the St James Ethics Centre’s image despite these links, which are often unknown.
In Australia, we now have militarised borders under the government’s policy and framework, Operation Sovereign Borders. Lt General Angus Campbell is the head of Operation Sovereign Borders and decisions made by the National Security Committee of Cabinet do not have to pass Cabinet. Refugees who seek asylum run up against this group of military persons, politicians and national security services. The operation itself has been run under secrecy and deception.
Operation Sovereign Borders refers to refugees who are detained offshore such as on Christmas Island, Manus Island and Nauru, or onshore. Our national government and the previous one have spent billions of dollars each year to lock up refugees who come by boat. The billions are spent on corporations and small businesses, non-government organisations and on detention centres, camps and the land to provide poor services and premises. This is spent without a guarantee of refugees’ basic safety. There is evidence from the refugees themselves and from others within and outside the system that this environment causes mental illness, trauma, extreme uncertainty and bodily pain due to ailments, which aren’t medically attended to. There is also evidence of abuse from guards and virulent racism. Families are sometimes separated.
The refugees have no freedom of movement and depending on the government’s desperate need to silence, have highly restricted access to lawyers and other advocates. Despite this, a lot of the information we are able to get is from refugees contacting people outside the camps, from lawyers and other advocates, former detention industry workers, non-government actors, from the government accidentally releasing info and from committed journalists. There has been increasing overseas media coverage about the current state but the government continues to act with impunity.
The Festival’s host, the St. James Ethics Centre and its foundation, has two board members who have direct connections to Operation Sovereign Borders. One board director of the St James Ethics Centre is Major General Andrew James Molan. Major General Molan is the paid Special Envoy of Operation Sovereign Borders. He helped design the operation and promoted the current government’s refugee policies prior to its election.
Another St James Ethics Board Director of concern is Douglas Snedden. Mr Snedden is also an independent director of Transfield Services, a multinational corporation that profits from the service provision of indefinitely detained refugees on Nauru and from 2014, Manus Island. Most recently, the national government under high secrecy ordered the detainment of 157 Tamil refugees on a prison ship. These same refugees are now being detained on Nauru.
Transfield Services entered the service and welfare provision on Manus Island after a particular series of brutal events. There was violence towards the refugees at the hands of various actors, which resulted in many injuries and the murder of a refugee known as Reza Berati. There are ongoing reports of abuses, including punishment, for when refugees try to inform people outside the camps of the abuses and when there is understandable protest on Manus Island.
• The St James Ethics Centre presents the staging of its ideas as neutral and the fallacy that its organised forums have no relevance to the indefinite detention of refugees. We reject this.
• The St James Ethics Centre runs on manufactured controversy in organising cultural events and profits off this controversy but neutralises the importance of having board directors who profit from the human rights abuses of refugees.
• We believe that the Festival of Dangerous Ideas allows the St James Ethics Centre to build its brand. This branding and reputation flows on to the reputations of corporations and government policies, which make up Operation Sovereign Borders.
• The Centre and its foundation with board directors who profit from this brutal system reduce this profiting to the sharing of ideas and an ‘inevitable’ conflict of interest such as on their governance page.
• The St James Ethics Centre’s charity status lists refugees and those seeking asylum as beneficiaries. We reject this when two of the directors of the centre and its foundation drive and profit from mandatory detention and Operation Sovereign Borders.
Nadya and Masha, we look forward to hearing about your activism, art and ideas at a different forum, a forum that does not have such strong ties to an industry that for profit, political gain and electoral stability oversees immense human rights abuse such as indefinite detention and an absence of refugee processing. In conclusion and in the spirit of solidarity, we created a mixtape for you both. A world where there is no mandatory detention—where refugees are free—is possible.
Too Many Girls In The Pit.