National, News

Gay Saudi journalists freed from immigration detention

The second of two gay journalists from Saudi Arabia who were being held in Australian immigration detention has today been released.

After bureaucratic errors led to one of the men, Sultan*, remaining in the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre while partner Nasser* was released, the couple have now been reunited in the community, Star Observer has reported.

The journalists were arrested eight weeks ago when they entered the country on valid visas with the intention of seeking asylum.

Human rights advocates, journalists, and politicians criticised their treatment by the Australian government, which the men compared to the oppression they experienced in Saudi Arabia.

They were reportedly the targets of violence while in detention and fears had been held for their safety.

“Immigration detention is no joke,” said Alison Battisson, the men’s lawyer, earlier this week.

“My clients are assaulted there weekly, and hospitalised weekly.”

She stated that the couple could also not safely return to their home country, where homosexuality is punishable by death.

“They would be disappeared and never seen again,” she said.

“We have received notice that the Saudi government is aware of this case, so [they] have no choice but to stay here and be processed.”

The actions of the LGBTIQ community, human rights activist Ivan Hinton-Teoh, and Australian journalist Peter Greste have led to Sultan being released to reunite with his partner of 20 years.

“Definitely, definitely, definitely the gay community rallied around us in a way that was so endearing and so powerful that I really feel it was the gay community that did this,” Sultan said.

“Dozens of people directly addressed the [immigration] minister, that’s for sure, and having Ivan Hinton-Teoh on our side was a big, big, big plus.”

The couple said they were traumatised by the experience of arrest and detention.

“The whole Villawood experience, I mean, oh God, it was no fun at all and it really made us jaded towards the Australian government,” said Sultan.

“It made us think, my God, have we made the right decision coming here?”

He thanked the community for coming to their aid, and said they were looking forward to starting their new life in Australia.

“Really from the bottom of our hearts we have to thank the LGBT community,” said Sultan.

“Just all the love that we saw on Twitter and on Facebook… I mean, it really feels like we were adopted and this is our new family.

“We’re gonna be out there. We want to go to the clubs, we want to see what Australian gay society is like.

“And we just wanna be able to breathe and feel free and not be scared.”

The Australian government has been criticised before for its treatment of LGBTIQ asylum seekers.

An estimated 30 to 40 gay and bisexual refugees may be among those who have remained on Manus Island, where homosexuality is also illegal under Papua New Guinea law, since the closure of its refugee processing centre.

*Not their real names.

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