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Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has launched an inquiry following a video broadcast on national TV which showed children being teargassed and strapped to chairs at a detention center that has been likened to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
The footage, aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), showed CCTV video of children being detained at the Don Dale Youth Detention Center in Darwin, in the far north of the country. The grim images show officers grabbing the neck of a boy named Dylan Voller and throwing him to the ground. He is then subsequently stripped naked. Another video shows Voller being teargassed by correctional officers, who just seconds before can be heard saying they wanted to “pulverize” him. Voller suffered some of this abuse when he was just 13. He was on the receiving end of violence for over four years.
"Like all Australians, I’ve been deeply shocked -shocked and appalled by the images of [the] mistreatment of children", Turnbull said, as quoted by Reuters.
Meanwhile, Jeanie Marie Walker, a human rights activist from Adelaide, told RT that the footage was “like something out of a horror story”. “No child should be confined for any length of time. These children have been teargassed, sworn at, thrown on the ground, handcuffed, and rushed by a large number of adults wearing gas masks”, she said. “This is like something out of a horror story and it certainly should not form the basis for any form of therapeutic rehabilitation model”.
Another image in the footage shows Voller with a hood over his head and neck, and his hands strapped to a chair. Changes to legislation this year in the Northern Territory have made it legal to use mechanical restraints on minors.
“Watching the program was harrowing. To see a crying, distressed child seized by his neck, forced to the ground, manhandled, stripped naked by three grown men and left naked in a cell is just sickening”, said Julian Cleary, an Indigenous rights campaigner at Amnesty International Australia. “The footage of guards laughing at a child being tear-gassed and in distress defies belief”, he stated in a report on the organization’s website.
The video material was filmed between 2010 and 2014 at the detention center in the Northern Territory. Lawyer Peter O’Brien, who is representing Voller, says that the “abuse is built into the very core of the system” and has called for Voller -who is now serving time in an adult prison in Alice Springs- to be released, along with all other children imprisoned in the Northern Territory. O’Brian also released a letter of apology from his client, who has been in detention since he was 11 years old for crimes including car theft, robberies, and assault.
Despite making up just three percent of the country’s total population, 27 percent of Australia’s prison population is made up of Aborigines. The figure for the Northern Territory is even more alarming, with 94 percent of juvenile inmates being Aborigines. “There is still a huge underlying racism amongst the Australian people towards the Aboriginals ever since British colonization…that culture has continued when you look at detention centers and places of authority”, Walker told RT.
The video footage has led to a public outcry, with people taking to Twitter to express their shock. Meanwhile, a petition calling for a Royal Commission to conduct an inquiry into the abuse has already gathered 15000 signatures on Change.org (1).
Prime Minister Turnbull has since said that such a commission will be set up in order to look into the alleged abuse.
Hours after the video was broadcast, a protest began at Alice Springs Prison, with eight inmates climbing onto the roof of the building. The jail, which is also located in the Northern Territory, houses 470 inmates. "At the moment the situation is understood to be calm and I think there is a hope that the situation can be resolved peacefully”, a police spokesman said, as quoted by The Sydney Morning Herald.
The government has already taken some action, with John Elferink -the minister responsible for young detainees in the Northern Territory- being dismissed by John Giles, the chief minister for the Northern Territory, who said there was a "culture of cover-up" within the system.
However, speaking to RT, Walker said that it will take a long time for the government’s attitude towards Aboriginal people to change. She added that the government “has absolutely no problem in discriminating against the aboriginal people”. “If people are behaving like thugs, swearing and abusing minors in this country and they are getting a pat on the back from our government, then I don’t think we are going far enough to stop this. This is not going to be an easy thing to turn around because this culture is deeply embedded in our society”, she said.
Video : Vision shows Dylan Voller forcefully stripped by staff
Video : Four Corners : Child tear-gassed by prison guards in NT detention centre