U.S. lawyer defends Australian asylum seekers

April 26, 2013 at 12:04 AM
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CANBERRA, Australia, April 26 (UPI) -- Former Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, defense lawyer Michael Mori wants greater access to people seeking asylum in Australian but kept in detention on the Pacific island of Nauru.

Mori, a retired U.S. Marines lieutenant colonel, represented former Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks for more than three years, resulting in Hicks being moved from Guantanamo Bay to serve his prison sentence in his native Australia.

In an exclusive interview with Australia's Fairfax Media group, Mori said the fate of asylum seekers on Nauru and that of Hicks are similar: Both are maligned in public opinion and they struggle to get proper legal representation.

His clients on Nauru are "almost incommunicado," Mori said.

"They've charged 10 people but there's not 10 lawyers on Nauru. There's no defense lawyers to handle the cases, so how are people supposed to get access to lawyers to advise them?"

Mori, 46, said politics must be put aside if people are to get a fair trial.

"Whether or not you agree with the process, the political situation, of the processing over in Nauru, you have to agree that people being detained should have access to legal help," Mori told Fairfax Media.

"I think that's the heart of it. You have to push the politics aside and remember, if someone's detained they need access to the law."

Mori moved to Melbourne last July after retiring from the Marines. He is working as legal consultant as part of the team from the firm Shine Lawyers defending the 10 asylum seekers in Nauru.

The Nauru detention center is part of Australia's solution to an increasing illegal immigrant problem.

Canberra has been struggling for more than a decade with housing and processing illegal immigrants wanting to claim asylum arriving by unseaworthy boats.

Many of the passengers pay hundreds of dollars to notorious people smugglers for the treacherous journey from Asian countries including Sri Lanka, Iran and Afghanistan.

The Australian government reached an agreement last year with the government of Nauru -- an island in the South Pacific with a population of just more than 9,000 -- to reopen an illegal immigrant processing center there in exchange for financial aid.

Nauru, a former British Colony called Pleasant Island, has been independent since 1968 but is under the protection of Australia.

In September, soon after the Nauru center opened, asylum seekers rioted, causing around $24,000 damage to facilities including kitchens and tents.

The Shine team is acting on behalf of the so-called "Nauru 10" who face riot and willful damage charges over the September riot.

The detainees will plead innocent, Fairfax reported.

In October, a court in Perth handed down a 14-year prison sentence to Ali Khorram Heydarkhani, 41, an Iranian-born Australian citizen and a self-confessed people smuggler whose illegal activities cost dozens of lives at sea.

Heydarkhani pleaded guilty to organizing five poorly maintained boats to travel from Indonesia to Australia from June 2010-January 2011, a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. said.

One vessel crashed into rocks in high seas yards from the shore of Christmas Island, killing 50 people in December 2010. The disaster was filmed by media whose clips showed people jumping into the sea amid bodies floating in the water.

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