Free Ned Kelly: An Interview With the Indefinitely Detained Iranian Asylum Seeker

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Indefinitely detained refugee

Right now, Ned Kelly Emeralds is being detained in Australian onshore immigration detention for a tenth year, with no clear end in sight. The Iranian refugee, who fled persecution in his homelands, arrived in Australian waters back in 2013.

In 2019, Ned changed his name to that of the Australian bushranger to whom he bears a striking resemblance, as a political statement, after he’d learnt about the outlaw when he was a librarian in Darwin detention. Indeed, both men suffered terribly at the hands of this nation’s authorities.

The 37-year-old Iranian engineer was set to be granted a bridging visa years ago, but instead has been shuffled through various facilities ever since. And the mental health of the asylum seeker, who’s been diagnosed with psychogenic mutism and PTSD, has been significantly impacted.

Indeed, Federal Court Justice Darryl Rangiah order last October that Kelly be sent to the offshore processing centre on Nauru, where detainees are free to move around the island, and in the meantime, he should be released into the community to live in the house of his friends in Perth.

However, Ned Kelly Emeralds remains in detention.

Clarifying indefinite detention

All other asylum seekers who arrived by boat at the same time as Kelly have been released into the community. And today, he remains one of 138 onshore immigration detainees that have been extralegally detained for over five years.

After it was demonstrated to the court in 2020 that under the current law, an individual who’d been detained for over six years could no longer continue to be detained because it wasn’t serving any legitimate purpose, the Morrison government promptly closed this loophole.

Then immigration minister Alex Hawke went on to pass a bill that clarified in law that as the government is unable to return certain detainees to their countries of origin due to nonrefoulement obligations but it won’t release them into the community, they can then be held indefinitely.

And a subsequent High Court appeal of the ruling that saw a long-term immigration detainee released was upheld by the majority mid-last year, as it found “unlawful noncitizens” can lawfully be held in immigration detention for an indefinite period under the authority of the executive.

A form of modern slavery

To convey some level of the brutality that our nation has treated Ned with, last year after he was granted his freedom by the courts, then home affairs minister Karen Andrews waited until he was packed and at the gates ready to leave the detention centre before she pulled the plug.

Andrews, who was unknowingly being shadowed by then PM Scott Morrison in her role, waited two weeks until the very morning that Kelly was set to leave after already having spent nine years in detention, before she exercised her ministerial discretion to reverse the order of the court.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Ned Kelly Emeralds about his treatment under the Australian government, which he regards as a modern form of slavery, and how despite his multiple cases before the courts, the decisions keep leading to the same outcomes. 

Ned Kelly Emeralds
Ned Kelly Emeralds

Ned, you were captured by the Australian Navy and forcibly taken to Darwin over a four-day period in 2013. You were fleeing Iran. But you were never sent offshore, rather you’ve been detained in onshore detention ever since.

Last year the Federal Court ordered that you be released from detention. However, you’re still in there. Why weren’t you released following the ruling?

The Federal Court ordered my removal to Nauru and my release to stay with friends, while the department organised removal to Nauru.

We went through a few mediation sessions: lots of time and effort. They woke me up early morning to pack and be discharged from Serco custody. And they took me to the exit gate.

However, minister Karen Andrews decided to exercise her ministerial power to veto the court order at the last minute.

This act questions the power of the justice system, when a person can override it, playing a psychological game like that. At least they didn’t need to wake me up early in morning to bag up.

The reason minister Andrews signed off was she thought it in the “public interest to do so”.

In their view, they have lots of reasons to lock me up. In my opinion, they believe they must punish slaves like me into obeyance as an example for others.

You’ve had many cases go before the courts. Last Friday, your case, AZC20 versus the Minister for Home Affairs was held in the Federal Court. How do you consider these proceedings?

There are a few cases named AZC20. The whole Federal Court is controlled by the government, and they play along as instructed.

You’re in your tenth year in Australian immigration detention. How would you describe your treatment at the hands of the Australian government?

A slave, such as me, has no choice in his life anymore: where to be, what to do. I don’t even have proper medical care, which is mostly used as weapon against people in need.

Since arriving in Australia, you changed your name to Ned Kelly Emeralds, why is that the case?

I changed my name in 2019, because the department changed some other people’s names without their knowledge or consent. One was my neighbour, an 85-year-old man.

And lastly, Ned, as you’ve mentioned, when the court ordered your release last year, Karen Andrews waited until the last minute to deny you your freedom. You now have cases filed against new home affairs minister Clare O’Neil.

I have multiple cases filed against the minister for home affairs. However, their representative objects time and again to changing the respondent to the secretary or minister for immigration, or to the Commonwealth of Australia.

Mostly this wastes court resources and delays the course of justice. In my perspective, they’re all the Australian Government and the responsibility of those that gave them the power to torture us in this puppet show that is a form of modern slavery.

So, what are you expecting from these cases?

Nothing much will come out of these cases. Even if it does, the minister can exercise her power again to veto the outcome or issue an order to detain me the next day with any excuse which will take a few more years to get a release order from the courts.

I’ve had too much experience of seeing these things happen many times in front of me.

That’s why my only goal is to fuck off from this stolen land that has become filthy since the kids of convicted felons think they can do whatever they want.

Please sign the online petition calling for the release of Ned Kelly Emeralds, along with the over 14,000 others who already have.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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