Refugee activist found not guilty on incitement charge

Refugee Action Collective Victoria member Chris Breen has been found not guilty on the charge of incitement.

The charge was brought in relation to a Facebook event for a COVID-safe car convoy protesting the detention of Medevac refugees at the Mantra Hotel in the Melbourne suburb of Preston on 10 April 2020.

The charge was dismissed on the grounds that the police could not prove that the Facebook posts they relied upon had been made by Breen and not another member of the Refugee Action Collective (RAC), or had been made during the relevant time period.

Almost 30 refugee supporters still have fines of $1652 each outstanding, totalling $50,000. Challenges to the fines will be heard in court in coming months.

Breen said: “The charge of incitement was an attempt by police to criminalise protest and should never have been brought. The Andrews Labor government should instruct police not to pursue such political charges and to drop the fines against refugee supporters.

“The real crime has been the prolonged indefinite detention of refugees. There should be charges laid against Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton for what has been done to them by the Coalition Government.

“After eight years of needless detention, the majority of the refugees who were in the Mantra Hotel are now free, but 11 remain cruelly held in the Park Hotel in Carlton. Over 80 Medevac refugees are still held around Australia. Some 1200 refugees who were sent offshore in 2013, including Medevac refugees, are now effectively resettled in Australia, but without any support, including no access to JobSeeker. That must change and they must be given permanent visas,” said Breen.

“This outcome is an important victory for the right to protest. That right was also demonstrated in practice yesterday when around 2000 refugee supporters rallied in Melbourne on Palm Sunday calling to free all refugees from detention, give them permanent visas, and end offshore processing.

“There has never been a COVID-19 case transmitted from a rally anywhere in Australia. However, there are now 13 refugees with COVID-19 in Port Moresby, who have been left in Australian-funded hotels without support. It is the Coalition government that has been negligent, disregarding the threat of COVID-19, not refugee rights protesters.

“The refugees in PNG with COVID-19 and others who remain at risk of catching it are still under Australian care. They should be brought here to safety for permanent resettlement now.”

Breen continued: “There has never been a legitimate reason for offshore processing. But particularly when no refugees have come to Australia under the humanitarian program (which has a current quota of 13,750) since March 2020, it demonstrates how easily the 260 refugees in limbo offshore in PNG and Nauru could be brought here. It is only dirty politics that leaves them offshore and that must end.

“The Refugee Action Collective would like to thank Fitzroy Legal Service, solicitor Odette Shenfield and barristers Gordon Chisholm and Julian Murphy for their work in the case. We would like to thank in particular Medevac refugee Mostafa Azimitabar (Moz from Manus), who gave evidence in court.”

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