Australian government urged to expedite asylum claim of two gay Saudi journalists who are still in detention

The Australian Senate has joined multiple global news organisations in calling for the government to release two gay Saudi journalists who have been held in an Australian detention centre for over a month.

The two men are using the pseudonyms Sultan and Nassar to conceal their identities. Sultan is a former ministry of media employee and Nassar is a cameraman.

They fled Saudi Arabia after Sultan was interrogated by Saudi authorities, who ordered him to stop working with foreign media. They allegedly outed him to his family and made veiled threats about he and his partner’s relationship.

Fearing for their safety in a country where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death, the two men sought asylum in Australia, where they have been held in a detention centre ever since.

As multiple news organisations around the world watch the case closely, the Australian Senate has now passed a motion calling on the government to recognise the increased risk it has placed on the two asylum seekers.

“When these journalists liken their treatment in Saudi to the violence they have experienced here in Australia, it should be a wake-up call,” senator Janet Rice told Guardian Australia.

“The government should act swiftly to reflect the view of the Senate on this matter and uphold the values of fairness and diversity that our country says we stand for.”

saudi arabia

Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Moscow in 2017. (PAVEL GOLOVKIN/AFP/Getty)

The men’s lawyer, Alison Battisson, said the motion was “an important step” to raise public awareness of how dangerous the country’s immigration detention centres are.

“I am aware of serious assaults, requiring hospitalisation, taking place on a weekly basis,” she said. “When assaults do occur, it appears very difficult for the Australian federal police to access detention to investigate.”

Last year the Australian government rejected calls to provide guarantees that gay asylum seekers will not be sent back to countries like Saudi Arabia where they face the death penalty.

Concerned this could happen to Nassar and Sultan, journalists from some of the world’s most prestigious news outlets, including BBC and ITN, have written to Australia’s immigration minister pledging their support for their asylum claim.