Freedom is beautiful, especially for those unjustly deprived of it

Mostafa Azimitabar after his release last week. Photo: Facebook/Mostafa Azimitabar
Mostafa Azimitabar after his release last week. Photo: Facebook/Mostafa Azimitabar

Last week, Mostafa Azimitabar, a Kurdish Iranian refugee, was finally granted his freedom after almost eight years of captivity under Australia's brutal offshore processing regime.

Moz Azimi, or Moz as he is known, arrived by boat in 2013 seeking asylum after fleeing persecution in Iran. Consigned offshore by the Federal Government, he was held for years on Manus Island and then afterwards in Port Moresby.

After being transferred to the mainland through the Medevac legislation in late 2019, he spent 13 months in hotel detention in Melbourne with a cohort of other refugees, under guard and totally cut off.

That was until last week, when he learned that together with 46 others, he would finally be released from behind the tinted glass at the Park Hotel in Carlton and granted a six-month bridging visa to live and work in the community.

I spoke to Moz by phone on Thursday while still inside the Park Hotel, shortly after he had received the news.

After spending 2737 days, or more than a quarter of his time on earth, imprisoned under Australia's hard-line policy, Moz described it as the most beautiful day of his life.

To witness the sheer elation on his face was a special moment, as well as a stark reminder of just how much we take our own freedom for granted. I felt the full power of that word; 'freedom', when spoken by someone who has been callously deprived of it for so many years, especially when innocent of any crime.

Moz is an open and articulate man and it was typical of the way in which he understands the collective plight of everyone who has suffered under this policy, that his own jubilation did not prevent him from lamenting the fact that refugees would remain left behind. Not only in the Park Hotel but elsewhere, both onshore and offshore, and he vowed to continue fighting for them. "Until all of us are free, none of us are truly free," he said.

Until all of us are free, none of us are truly free

Mostafa Azimitabar

According to Amnesty, approximately 140 people remain held at APODs (Alternative Places of Detention) such as the Park Hotel and other detention centres onshore, and a further 254 people are still offshore on Nauru and in PNG.

No notice was provided by the Federal government about the release last week, nor an explanation. For those close to the issue, this comes as no surprise. The perpetual lack of procedural integrity in the government's approach to managing this inhumane farce has only driven home its arbitrary nature.

Some are released without warning; others are inexplicably left without any sense whatsoever of why. This is just more senseless cruelty piling up on years of heinous suffering already dealt out by the government with brutal and uncaring disregard.

For many including Moz, who have fled life threatening situations and embarked on hazardous journeys to reach safety, they have experienced the greatest trauma in the years since they arrived here.

When pressed about 'why these men' and 'why now', Peter Dutton said on Friday that the decision was taken to save money, noting it was cheaper to keep men like Moz in the community than in detention.

If true, why has the government spent millions of dollars wrenching a Tamil family with two small children out of their community in Biloela, Queensland, continuing to hold them in detention on Christmas Island?

If the Government had been genuinely concerned with the cost of slowly destroying the innocent lives of those who sought our protection since 2013, it would not only have saved the Australian taxpayer billions of dollars, but also salvaged our international standing.

Also occurring last week by chance, if it is in fact unrelated, Australia appeared before the UN Human Rights Council where our human rights record was assessed by other member states under a review that only takes place every five years. A reported 43 countries singled out Australia for criticism regarding its refugee and asylum policy.

Moz attributes his ability to retain a sense of hope during his ordeal to the support of the many Australians who protested and spoke out, ensuring that he and others held with him never felt alone.

Strong friendships that he formed on the outside with people such as ex-Socceroo Craig Foster, who has been at the forefront of efforts to release every refugee and asylum seeker under the current policy, gave him strength.

Foster, who received an AM on Tuesday for his services to the multicultural community, human rights and refugee advocacy, dedicated the honour to his friend Moz, another refugee detained with him, Farhad Bandesh as well as refugee footballer, Hakeem Alaraibi.

Through the years Moz was held captive, poetry and music were his outlet to both relieve him from the stresses of his situation and give voice to his yearning for freedom. The guitar he plays so beautifully was a gift from Jimmy Barnes.

On Saturday then, it was fitting that just two days after his release, at the invitation of Jimmy Barnes, Moz attended the rock legend's concert in the Yarra Valley as a VIP, standing upfront and free as air, in what he joyfully called the "most Aussie experience I could ever imagine."

  • Angus McDonald is an award-winning artist and documentary filmmaker. Twitter and Instagram @angusmcz