Iranian refugee father convicted of attempted suicide in Nauru resettlement facility.

Trigger warning: This post discusses the topic of suicide. 

By Michael Walsh

A refugee in Nauru has been convicted of attempted suicide after an incident at one of the country’s refugee resettlement areas.

Sam Nemati pleaded guilty to the charge, which is recognised as a crime in Nauru and, despite being the sole parent of an eight-year-old girl, spent two weeks locked up in February before receiving bail.
Nemati had been held in an Australian-funded detention centre in Nauru for nearly two years before being resettled in the community.

In late January this year, Nauru police went to the Nibok resettlement area to remove Nemati and his daughter Aysa because they had moved there from another facility without the permission of service provider Connect Settlement Services.

Nemati said Aysa did not like their old centre and wanted to move to Nibok where there were other children she could play with.

“Daughter … in the Nibok camp, happy because she has friends, five, six friends live in Nibok,” Nemati said.

Police tried to negotiate with Nemati, asking him to leave the property, but his English was poor, and the officers did not bring a translator.

When Connect officials arrived to remove Nemati’s belongings, he became distressed and attempted to take his own life.
After subduing Nemati, police took him to the island’s hospital for treatment — later that day he was charged with attempted suicide.


Nauru’s former resident magistrate, Peter Law, said the case was unusual.

“It’s a very rare charge to bring to the court and there’s a reason for that,” Mr Law said.

“My own personal view is that a charge of that nature has several alternatives, which should be considered.”


Suicide law based on old Queensland laws

Nauru’s attempted suicide law comes from the Queensland Criminal Code, which is the basis for all criminal law in the country.

While Queensland repealed the section on suicide attempts decades ago, those laws were never amended in Nauru, and it remains a criminal offence.

“It’s entirely inappropriate to make it a criminal offence to attempt suicide,” says Dr Barri Phatarfod from Doctors For Refugees.

Mr Law said it was strange that more obvious charges were not pursued instead.

“Prosecuting authorities and defence lawyers should be looking at alternative charges to attempted suicide,” Mr Law said.

“There very well could have been other charges available such as trespass, failure to comply with the lawful direction of a police officer.

“I’m just a little bit surprised that they’d pursue a charge of this nature.”

After pleading guilty to the attempted suicide charge, Nemati was convicted, and sentenced to 12 months’ good behaviour.
Prosecutors had wanted him jailed for two months for the offence, in order to deter others in the tiny island nation from, in their words, attempting suicide “to get what they want” in disputes.


Barri Phatarfod from Doctors For Refugees said the justice system was not the right place to tackle the issue of suicide.

“It’s entirely inappropriate to make it a criminal offence to attempt suicide … it just shows that the [Australian] Government’s statement that the people in Nauru are going to be cared for by the same standards that we care for people in Australia is just an outright lie,” Dr Phatarfod said.

“Nowhere in Australia do you ever see anyone being charged for attempting suicide.”

Due to multiple adjournments, Nemati was held in custody for two weeks before his bail hearing.

During this time, he said he received no mental health counselling.

“No, no doctor come and see me,” Nemati said.

“Only one after suicide going to hospital, no, no doctor see me.”

Police, father provide conflicting reports on child’s care

Nauru police and Nemati have given conflicting accounts of how Aysa was cared for in those two weeks.

The Nauru Police Force told the ABC Aysa was cared for by relatives, with help from Nauru’s Child Protection Unit.

But Nemati said he did not have any relatives in Nauru.

“Me I’ve family? No me don’t have family. Only friends. Me and Aysa together. Don’t have another family,” Nemati said.


“In Australia, there are alternatives to the criminal justice system and jail for people who are deemed to be a threat to themselves,”says Madeline Gleeson from Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law.
He said Aysa was left by herself before being taken in by his friends, and rejected statements that the Nauru Government or Connect were involved in her care.

“Only just my child, searching searching, saved after two days, saved [by] my friend,” Nemati said.

“No help [from] the Government, no help [from] police, no help [from] Connect.”

Dr Phatarfod was critical of the way authorities responded to Aysa’s needs after the incident.

“This young daughter was effectively dumped by Connect. There’s no other way of looking at it,” Dr Phatafod said.

“Once they decided to prosecute her father, the goal was on making an example of the father and showing him that he can’t self harm and get away with it, and there was absolutely no thought given to the daughter.

“It’s an absolute dereliction of care, it’s just appalling the way they treated her.”

Australia says refugees subject to Nauru laws

In a statement, the Nauru Government said that while the charge was uncommon, it agreed with the prosecutor’s push for a jail sentence.

The Government said it was concerned that self-harm was being used as a “method of protest”, and it wanted to stamp out the practice.


Madeline Gleeson from the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law said that faced with increased mental health issues among asylum seekers, and limited capacity to deal with those illnesses, it was not surprising that Nauruan authorities had turned to the justice system.

“In Australia, there are alternatives to the criminal justice system and jail for people who are deemed to be a threat to themselves, and they’re vastly more appropriate alternatives at that,” Ms Gleeson said.

“And many would argue it’s unrealistic to expect an island that has not traditionally dealt with such matters before to suddenly be able to respond in a way that Australia would deem appropriate.”

When asked about the case, Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection said all refugees in Nauru were subject to that country’s laws, and it would not be appropriate for the department to comment on Nauru’s legal processes.

*Image: Supplied

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

© 2015 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. Read the ABC Disclaimer here
24-hour telephone counselling:

Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
Headspace on 1800 650 850