Refugees cleared of riot charges

Issue 

Three of the 12 Tamil asylum seekers accused of rioting at Christmas Island detention centre in November 2009 have had their charges dismissed.

The lawyers for detainee Mr Suntharalingam successfully argued that it would not be fair to use his record of interview against him, as he did not fully understand the caution given to him by the Federal Police at the start of the interview.

Without the interview Commonwealth prosecutors were unable to continue the charges against him.

The defence also said there was insufficient evidence to prove any of the charges against fellow detainees Mr Mahentheran and Mr Gunaratnam. The prosecution agreed and dropped the charges.

One of the men charged said a Serco officer — an employee of the security company that runs the detention centre — made claims in his evidence that were at odds with the surveillance video.

One of these claims was that Sri Lankans had broken up a set of soccer goal posts in the grounds of the detention centre to make weapons. The video surveillance showed the men who caused the damage were not Sri Lankan.

The detainees were quite amused by the responses one of the Serco officers gave in evidence, which indicated that he too had held a stick in his hand for defence.

Nine News said the court was told authorities had been warned of mounting tensions hours before the riot took place.

The centre manager told the court that the population of asylum seekers had started to swell a month before.

Refugee advocate Ian Rintoul said there were no racial tensions between Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum seekers. Instead, the pressures of overcrowding turned minor problems into major issues.

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