MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian refugee advocates and opposition politicians on Saturday condemned the conviction of an Iranian asylum seeker on charges of attempted suicide, a criminal offence in Nauru where he is being held in an Australian-run detention center.
Under Australia’s tough immigration policy, asylum seekers attempting to reach the country by boat are intercepted and sent to camps on the South Pacific island nation of Nauru, about 3,000 kms (1,800 miles) northeast of Australia, or on Manus island in Papua New Guinea to the north.
Human rights groups, including the U.N. Refugee Agency, have criticized the harsh conditions at the detention centers, which have sparked riots and self-harm protests.
The Iranian man, who has an eight-year-old daughter in the detention center, pleaded guilty to the offence of attempted suicide on Friday and was given a 12 month suspended sentence, according to a Nauru government statement.
The Nauru government said prosecutors wanted to “deter other would-be offenders who resort to self-harm to avoid lawful actions against them or to get what they want”.
“We are concerned that this method of protest is being used and want to stamp out this practice,” it said.
Australia’s Greens opposition party has been a long-time critic of Australia’s offshore detention policy.
“We’ve left them there languishing, destroyed all hope of ever coming to Australia, This poor guy wanted to take his own life and he is now being punished for that,” Greens politician Sarah Hanson-Young told Australia’s Sky News on Saturday.
A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection said all refugees in Nauru were subject to that country’s laws.
The number of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia is small compared with those arriving in Europe, but border security has long been a hot-button political issue.
Offshore detention is supported by both Australia’s conservative government and main opposition Labor party. A national election is expected to be called within months.
Editing by Michael Perry