More than 40 current and former detention centre staff, including teachers and health workers, have penned an open letter challenging the Australian government to prosecute them for speaking out about abuses they have witnessed.

The signatories, who have worked in immigration facilities across Nauru, Manus Island and the mainland, have spoken out together on the same day that new laws come into effect, cracking down on the disclosure of information from detention centres. 

The letter, published by The Guardian, begins:

Today the Border Force Act comes into force. It includes provision for a two-year jail sentence for “entrusted persons” such as ourselves if we continue to speak out about the deplorable state of human rights in immigration detention without the express permission of the minister for immigration and border protection. This strengthens the wall of secrecy which prevents proper public scrutiny.

We have advocated, and will continue to advocate, for the health of those for whom we have a duty of care, despite the threats of imprisonment, because standing by and watching sub-standard and harmful care, child abuse and gross violations of human rights is not ethically justifiable.

The writers say that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection have failed to adequately respond to abuses, and that they themselves will continue to report, even if this means being imprisoned under the strict new laws.

They end the letter with what amounts to a challenge to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton:

We are aware that in publishing this letter we may be prosecuted under the Border Force Act and we challenge the department to prosecute so that these issues may be discussed in open court and in the full view of the Australian public.

The new offence, which comes into effect today, gives the Immigration Department broader powers to determine what is “protected information” relating to detention centres, and criminalises the disclosure of said information.

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