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While Queensland repealed the section on suicide attempts decades ago, those laws were never amended in Nauru, and it remains a criminal offence.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