Manus Island detainee Behrouz Boochani wins major literary prize putting more pressure on detention policy

February 4, 2019

Behrouz Boochani in November, 2017. Picture: Jason Garman/Amnesty International
Behrouz Boochani in November, 2017. Picture: Jason Garman/Amnesty International

With one of the MEA 2019 final nominees being detained on Manus island in the same way [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/24/breaking-news-ennals-award-announces-its-3-finalists-for-2019/ ] it is relevant to note that another such detainee has won literary awards in Australia! Iranian-Kurdish journalist and poet Behrouz Boochani won the richest Australian Victorian Prize for Literature ($100,000) for his hellish first-hand account of life as a detainee on the island. His book, No Friend But The Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison, also won the $25,000 prize for nonfiction at Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards on 31 January 2019. (The eligibility criteria requiring that the authors be Australian citizens or permanent residents was overlooked to award the prize.

Mr Boochani told the Herald Sun from Manus Island, where he has been detained for more than five years, that the award was a victory for literature, resistance and humanity. But, he added: “I don’t want to celebrate this achievement while I still see many innocent people suffering around me.

No Friend But The Mountains.

If I could be there to accept the award I would explain how this award is a morality failure for Australia,” Mr Boochani said. “It is not just a failure on the part of the Australian government but a historical and moral defeat for those parts of the society who have been silent in the face of a barbaric policy over these years…It’s a huge cause of shame for a government that did not recognise us as human beings and did not recognise our human rights. It’s a challenge against a system that has lied to the public over the past years.”.


On 1 February University of Melbourne, followed up with a thoughtful piece on why “Behrouz Boochani’s literary prize cements his status as an Australian writer”

Other Australian authors have also used their voices to bring attention to the plight of asylum seekers. During her acceptance speech for her second Miles Franklin Award in August 2018, Michelle de Kretser chastised politicians for their treatment of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island. To illustrate her point, she read a list of names of asylum seekers who have died there in the past five years. It is tempting to dismiss such actions as gesture politics by an urban elite. But each individual action has served to raise awareness of the Australian government’s policy of “offshore processing” for asylum seekers, and to fuse artistic expression with political activism in a particularly forceful manner.

The author has been awarded the Anna Politkovskaya Award (for investigative journalism), the Amnesty International Award (Australian section) and Liberty Victoria’s Empty Chair Award. These humanitarian awards have confirmed Boochani’s rapidly acquired high profile in the literary field. Last night’s news topped all of that to make Boochani the first “non-Australian” author to win the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. The Victorian government established these awards in 1985 to honour Australian writing. The specific challenge this poses to the definition of “Australian writing” can be seen as an intervention by the literary community into the field of politics. If a non-citizen who has never set foot on mainland Australia can win, who counts as an Australian author?…

With no clear solution to the indefinite detention of asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru in sight, the paradox of Boochani’s award success can only contribute further to public debate over the tangled logic of indefinite detention. It shows how cultural practices and political activism can be reconfigured to correspond with the newly created literary currency associated with refugee writing. For now, at least, Boochani is an “Australian writer” because Australia is morally implicated in what he wrote and how he wrote it.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/04/mea-nominee-aziz-abdul-muhamat-suffers-under-australias-endless-detention-policy/

https://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/manus-island-detainee-behrouz-boochani-wins-literary-prize/news-story/b57918c19d7f4c9a88ef532001b4f164

https://theconversation.com/behrouz-boochanis-literary-prize-cements-his-status-as-an-australian-writer-110986

One Response to “Manus Island detainee Behrouz Boochani wins major literary prize putting more pressure on detention policy”


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