'Saddam Hussein didn't treat us as badly'
Anger mixed with grief as the family of asylum seeker Reza Barati, who died on Manus island in Australian custody, mourn their loved one.PT1M51S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-33r3x 620 349 February 28, 2014
Deeply suspicious of the outside world, the family of dead asylum seeker Reza Barati cancelled a memorial service that was to be held in their village in the far west of Iran on Friday - apparently fearing they could be punished by official decisions to block repatriation of the young man's body.
Torabi Barati, a 50-year-old construction worker, wept on meeting members of his clan who had made a nine-hour journey by road from Tehran, to attend the service for his son who was killed in an eruption of violence at the Australian-run immigration detention centre on Manus Island - but the father gave no reason for the cancellation.
At the same time, family friend Khalil Rezai Far was blunt when he spoke to Fairfax Media on the family's behalf. Explaining they appreciated that Papua New Guinea and Australia were separate countries, he said: ''Their understanding is that he was murdered in Australian detention - security in the camp has to be an Australian responsibility.
Mourning: Reza Barati's sister Kowsar (fifth from left) with her aunt (second from right) after the memorial service. Photo: Kate Geraghty
''We want justice and we want human rights organisations to follow this killing,'' the 46-year-old teacher said in a phone interview facilitated by a translator.
''All he wanted was to have a better life - he was an intelligent young man with productive years ahead of him and he would have been good for the Australian economy.''
Mr Far's comments in this regard will be read in some quarters as justification for the bipartisan political support for toughening of Australia's asylum policies in recent years.
Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati memorial
Men gather for prayers during the memorial service of killed asylum seeker Reza Barati. Photo: Kate Geraghty
Explaining that as many as 20 local men had taken the people-smuggler route to Australia in recent years, the teacher said: ''People here are really worried for the men they know who are still on Manus Island - and nobody wants to leave for Australia now.''
Asked if they were political refugees or, as Canberra insists, economic refugees, Mr Far opted for a third adjective, offering this explanation of family needs and youthful aspirations in rural Iran: ''Reza was not a political refugee - he was a social refugee.''
Explaining that Reza was the eldest of his siblings, Mr Far said the young man, who had trained as an architect, had particular responsibilities to his family. ''He had a duty to look after them and this was why he went to Australia - to get a job to help them financially,'' he said.
A framed photo of Reza in the family home. Photo: Supplied
More than a dozen condolence banners were affixed to the outside wall of the small compound enclosing the Barati home, in the village of Lumar, a farming community of about 1000 people in Iran's Ilam province.
The Barati home, in which the parents raised five children, was described as humble. And its construction on public land was read as a sign of the family's poverty.
Instead of the anticipated assembly with hundreds of locals on an open space at the front of the compound, a family delegation of about a dozen males met the travellers from Tehran, expressing fears they might suffer more.
''The father was very quiet, but the others were very afraid - they said they did not want Reza's death to become a political issue,'' one of the visitors said. ''This was because the body has not been returned and buried locally.''
Despite the father's reticence on Friday, a statement read on his behalf at a memorial service in Tehran on Thursday used strong language and an inexact understanding of the facts, as they are known at this stage, of the standing of the perpetrators of the attack.
Contrary to reports that the clashes happened after local G4S staff descended on the centre, a translation of the father's statement reads: ''I strongly condemn this horrible crime committed by the Australian police force … and express great hatred towards [the perpetrators]. I ask the Iranian and Australian diplomacy system, the supposedly pro-human rights media and the judiciary in Iran and Australia to identify the merciless criminals - and to take them to court immediately.
''We separate the kind sympathetic people of Australia, who got together and lit candles in different cities to commemorate Reza, from the criminals who committed such a … crime. We truly appreciate the humanitarian acts of the Australian people.''
Despite the family's insistence that Australia is responsible for the death, it seems Canberra is set to resist any claim for compensation.
It is understood that, for now at least, the government's position is a willingness to pay for the repatriation of Mr Barati's body to Iran.