Religious leaders campaign to end indefinite detention in wake of Djokovic saga

A group of Australian religious leaders this morning launched a campaign in Melbourne called #SetThemFree, which urges Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese to work together to release asylum seekers in detention.

The campaign picks up on the international attention drawn to the plight of Australia’s detained asylum seekers by the Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic saga, who was detained in Melbourne’s Park Hotel after his visa to enter Australia was cancelled. Mehdi Ali, an Iranian immigrant who came to Australia at age 16, used the media interest in the tennis star’s experience to highlight his own plight of being locked up for nine years with no prospect of release.

As the Australian Open reaches its climax, Baptist minister Tim Costello spoke at Melbourne’s St Paul’s Cathedral on behalf of more than 30 faith leaders who jointly urged the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader to restore Australia’s reputation as a compassionate country. However, there are no denominational leaders among the signatories, so it is unclear how substantial the support is.

The campaign launch featured a short film #SetThemFree from acclaimed director Richard Keddie (Ride Like a Girl, Oddball, Little Fish) and narrated by Tim Costello. The film highlights the plight of refugees still held in indefinite detention, including in Melbourne’s notorious Park Hotel.

“The refugees have been sacrificial lambs to the politics of border control and immigration.” – Tim Costello

“Compassion is the core of every faith,” Costello said. “It is significant that religious leaders are urging the Prime Minister, a man of faith, to meet with the Opposition Leader and together do something that is ultimately good for all Australians – agree on releasing refugees and asylum seekers held in indefinite detention,” he said.

“There is currently no legislated end to indefinite detention. The refugees have been sacrificial lambs to the politics of border control and immigration for many years. This could be a watershed moment in which Australians can feel good about embracing a kinder approach.

“In his maiden speech to parliament, Mr Morrison said he derived from his faith ‘the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others; to fight for a fair go for everyone to fulfil their human potential and to remove whatever unjust obstacles stand in their way’. We call on the Prime Minister to draw on these values now.”

Chair of the Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria Jasbir Singh said the refugees and asylum seekers had sought Australia’s care but instead had lost years of their lives in detention. “There is now a great opportunity for our political leaders to bring closure to the detainees and to the Australian community,” he said.

Sister Brigid Arthur, coordinator of the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project (BASP), said: “The Prime Minister and Opposition Leader have the power to set them free. It is a question of whether they will open their hearts and act, not a question of what to do.”

The film #SetThemFree can be viewed on Twitter at @SetThemFree_AU.

Campaign signatories

  • Bishop Philip Huggins (Anglican Church)
  • Imam Alaa Elzokm (Elsedeaq Heidelberg Mosque)
  • Rabbi Shamir Caplan (Beit Aharon Synagogue)
  • Harold Zwier (JCMA)
  • Rabbi Gabi Kaltmann (ARK Centre)
  • Jasbir Singh Suropada (Chairperson – Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria)
  • Makarand Bhagwat (President – Hindu Council of Australia) Rev. Bhakata Dasa (Vaisnava Hindu Community)
  • Libby Saunders and Brigid Arthur – Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project (BASP)
  • Ian Smith (JCMA)
  • Tim Costello (Director – Micah Australia)
  • Chris Parnell (Interfaith Minister)
  • Graeme Blackman (President – VCC)
  • Bishop Paul Barker (Anglican Church )
  • June Factor (Founder – Befriend Children in Detention)
  • Islamic Council of Victoria
  • Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria
  • Australian National Imams Council
  • Jewish Community Council of Victoria
  • Elsedeaq Islamic Society – Heidelberg Mosque
  • Hindu Council of Australia
  • Australian Islamic Centre – Newport Mosque
  • International Society for Krishna Consciousness
  • Vaisnava Hindu Community
  • Council of Christians and Jews
  • Islamic Society of Victoria – Preston Mosque
  • Beit Aharon Synagogue
  • Bendigo Islamic Community Centre – Bendigo Mosque
  • Religions for Peace Australia
  • Al-Wasat Newspaper
  • Islamic Society of Geelong
  • Islamic Association of Monash Mosque
  • SistaHub
  • Shepparton interfaith Network
  • SalamFest
  • Melbourne Muslimahs
  • Melbourne Multicultural Centre Mosque
  • Muslim Professionals Association
  • Indonesian Muslim Community of Victoria
  • Somali Australian Council of Victoria Australian Bosnian Islamic Centre Deer Park
  • Albanian Australian Islamic Society- Carlton Mosque
  • Muslim Health Professionals
  • Muslim Mental Health Professionals
  • Hallam Mosque
  • Darusalam Islamic Society Mosque
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina Islamic Society, Noble Park
  • Afghan Islamic Centre – Omar Farooq Mosque
  • Green Crescent Australia
  • Australian Turkish Institute