Court orders mute asylum seeker detained in Australia be released into community or moved to Nauru

A judge has ordered that a mute asylum seeker who has been detained in Australia for eight years be moved to Nauru or released from detention and allowed to live in a house in Perth pending the transfer.

If the man – known as AZC20 in court documents – is ultimately transferred to Nauru he would be the first person sent offshore by Australia in more than seven years.

AZC20, an engineer who fled Iran seeking protection in Australia, has been shunted between detention centres.

The indefinite nature of his detention has damaged his mental health, the federal court has heard. In a judgment delivered late last week, justice Darryl Rangiah noted AZC20’s “chronic demoralisation” and said the “unchallenged evidence is clear that ongoing and prolonged detention in the environment of detention centres is contributing to the applicant’s poor state of mental health”.

After a suicide attempt in 2015, AZC20 was left unable to speak, the court heard. He has been diagnosed with psychogenic mutism. All subsequent interviews have been conducted with AZC20 writing answers.

Guy Coffey, a clinical psychologist, told the court “there is unequivocal clinical and research evidence that the mental health of people held in immigration detention deteriorates over time [and] exposure to violence hastens that deterioration”.

Coffey said AZC20’s mental health would not improve while he remained detained, but that if he was “released into the community and received appropriate psychological treatment his psychological condition would improve”.

The judge has ordered AZC20 be moved from the Perth immigration detention centre to Nauru, Australia’s only remaining offshore processing island.

 Australia’s last transfer of a new asylum seeker to its Nauru offshore processing centre was in September 2014. More than 100 people sent there by Australia remain on the island.