More than 18 months after the murder of the Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati in the violence of last year’s riots in the Manus detention centre, two men accused of killing him are due to stand trial on Monday.But the evidence before police – from several witnesses and the official Australian government report into the rioting – states many more people were involved in the assault that killed the 23-year-old Iranian.
Guardian Australia has chosen not to publish the men’s names for legal reasons. The names are known to the Australian government and to Papua New Guinea police, and are included in documents before the court.
Statements made to the police name at least two more G4S guards who reportedly kicked Barati in the head as he lay prone and bleeding at the top of a staircase.
But local men Joshua Kaluvia and Louie Efi, both 29, remain the only two charged, and appear likely to be the only two ever called to answer for the crime.
“They want to convict us so that nobody else, no Australians or New Zealanders who are responsible, have to face justice,” Kaluvia told Guardian Australia from Lorengau prison. “We have to take the blame for them because we are PNG.”
The Manus MP, Ronnie Knight, says the limited prosecution highlights a legal doublestandard: “One law for the locals, and no laws for the expats. The locals don’t matter, and the expats get off, they can do what they like.”
Justice Nicholas Kirriwom will preside over the trial. Reza Barati, an architecture graduate and member of Iran’s Kurdish ethnic minority, fled the impoverished city of Lumar in 2013 escaping, his family says, the persecution of Kurds systemic under the Tehran regime.
He arrived, by boat, on the Australian territory of Christmas Island on 24 July 2013, five days after the change of policy that meant he could never be resettled in Australia. He had been on Manus Island for six months when he was killed.
The violence that seized the Australian-funded and-run immigration detention centre on Los Negros Island, Manus province, in PNG last February, was “eminently foreseeable” according to a parliamentary inquiry, which said Australia “failed in its duty … to protect Reza Barati”.
Then, tensions had been building in the centre for weeks, particularly between asylum seekers and local guards, and asylum seeker frustration at the slowness of refugee processing had been exacerbated by a meeting where they were told they would be stuck in detention on Manus “a very long time” and would never go to Australia.
Plenty saw the violence coming. One expat guard warned a group of asylum seekers, “tonight, they [PNG guards] are going to kill you.”
Protests, racially charged abuse of local guards, and rock-throwing by asylum seekers was responded to with rock-throwing from PNG security guards, and then gunshots by police as they and other local men stormed the compound, pushing down fences and attacking asylum seekers.
In three days of violence between 16 and 18 February, one asylum seeker had his throat slashed, another lost an eye, one was shot in the buttocks by police, while 60 were injured among dozens who were beaten. And Barati was murdered.
According to reports, Barati, prominent in the detention centre because he was two metres tall, was not part of the violence.
In the Australian government’s report into the unrest in the Manus detention centre, retired public servant Robert Cornall described him as “a very gentle man”.
Witnesses say on the night of 17 February, as the violence reached its peak, they saw Barati running up a flight of stairs in Mike compound to his upper floor room, pursued by several guards.
At the top of the stairs, a man not in uniform – identified in several witness statements and the Cornall report as Joshua Kaluvia – stood carrying a large piece of timber with nails sticking out of its end.
At the top of the stairs, the man identified as Kaluvia allegedly struck Barati in the head with the timber, shouting, “Fuck you, motherfucker.” Barati did not fall.
Kaluvia allegedly struck Barati again, knocking him to the ground.
One witness statement provided to police says: “Reza Barati was bleeding very heavily from the injury on head. I saw Reza Barati was still alive at that time when he was lying on the wire floor. The G4S guards who were chasing him from behind reached him and kicked him [Barati] on his head with their boots. I saw about a total of 13 G4S local officers and two expatriate officers kicked Reza Barati in his head with their boots. He was putting up his hands trying to block the blows from the boots.”
The expatriates cannot be named for legal reasons but the witness statement guards said one “had a bleeding nose that night. He is about 1.75 cm (sic) tall. I can identify him if I see him again or see his photograph.” The witness said the other one was shorter.
The statement continued.
“I then saw this man who was a G4S guard (local) with one eye. He held on to a stone which was about 30cm wide and 50cm in height. Saw him lifted the stone up with both hands above his head and threw it very hard on Reza Barati’s head while he was still lying on the wire floor. I think at that time when he threw the stone Reza died.”
The Cornall report names Louie Efi, who has only one eye, as dropping the rock onto Barati’s head.
On Manus Island, Guardian Australia independently spoke to two further witnesses to Barati’s death.
Both gave identical accounts: that Barati was chased up the stairs, hit twice with the piece of wood before being kicked by several guards, local and expatriate, as he lay prone and bleeding on the ground. Finally, a large rock was dropped or thrown onto his head.
“It was locals and it was expats, they attacked him as he was going up the stairs” said one man, who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation from people on Manus Island.
“They hit him and they kicked him with their boots. And they dropped a rock on his head. We watched all of this, we saw him die.”
The man told Guardian Australia he will not give evidence in this week’s trial, for fear of reprisals from other guards and local people. He says he has been told he will be killed if he testifies.
The Australian government’s Cornall report details the allegations against Kaluvia and Efi attacking Barati. But the report also says others were involved in the attack on Barati.
Cornall heard evidence from one witness: “When he fall down, more than 10 officer passed him and all of them, they kicked him in his head. I can recognise all of them, it was including PNG locals, PNG guards and Australian expats.”
Cornall was told by a medical officer who treated Barati that it was clear the asylum seeker would not survive his catastrophic head injury.
“Mr Barati’s head was shattered by a crack on the left side of his skull … he also had facial abrasions and knocks indicating he has received a more general beating (not just the blow to the skull).”
Barati’s catastrophic brain injury caused cardiac arrest.
Cornall concluded: “Mr Barati suffered a severe brain injury caused by a brutal beating by several assailants and died a few hours later.”
The PNG police have been provided with all of the information, including witness interviews, gathered by Cornall.
In the ramshackle insecurity of Lorengau prison, Kaluvia and Efi speak quietly but forcefully as they insist they did not kill Reza Barati.
Speaking to Guardian Australia in a quiet corner of the prison block, Kaluvia, who worked inside the detention centre for the Salvation Army, says he was at his home, on the hill high above the army base where the detention centre stands, on the night Barati died.
He says he only started walking down to the centre after he heard gunshots (fired by PNG police mobile squad at asylum seekers). The journey to the detention centre took him more than half an hour.
Kaluvia says the rioting had finished by the time he arrived, and he only ever stood outside the centre. He says he never went in.
“I didn’t even see Reza Barati, I didn’t see anything at all. I was out of the compound. I was not there,” he says, standing barefoot inside the wire of Lorengau prison.
Kaluvia says he has been identified in witness statements because he was well-known inside the centre.
“In my work with the Salvation Army, I was in direct contact with the guys every day. We tried to help where we could, to give them stuff to do to keep busy. From that work, they know me. They know my name, and they could say, ‘I saw him there that night’.
“But I did not do this thing.”
Efi was employed by G4S and was on ‘static’ guard duty outside the compound on the night of the rioting. He says he did not know Barati, and did not see him on the night he died.
“I only went into the place after this thing happened. I did not see what happened to Reza Barati, I did not throw the stone that police say I throw the stone. I do not know who killed him. But I did not do it. I am totally innocent.”
Efi told Guardian Australia he would bring witnesses before the court to testify to his innocence. “We don’t trust what is happening to us, we don’t trust we will get a fair trial. This is a big political case. We did not commit this crime.”
Kaluvia says: “We are being set up.”
“They want to convict us so that nobody else, no Australians or New Zealanders, who are responsible, have to face justice. We have to take the blame for them because we are PNG. They think we don’t matter.”
On Manus Island, the provincial governor, Charlie Benjamin, is anxious to stress the courts alone must judge the guilt or innocence of Kaluvia and Efi.
But he asks why no action has been taken to investigate or prosecute anybody else, despite the evidence that several people were involved in the fatal attack on Barati.
“Everybody should be treated equally before the law, and the incident should be fully and fairly investigated. It should not just be the two locals who are held responsible. This violence, it was not just these two. These two were not the only people responsible.”
Benjamin said the double standards of justice – one law for expats, one for locals – was a continuing sore point for Manussians, who had otherwise been accommodating of the imposition of the detention centre on their land.
“People are definitely not happy. We need to see these people, everybody who is responsible, brought to justice.”
Knight, the local MP, says his constituents are furious that Kaluvia and Efi appear to be the only people who will ever face charges.
“This is just like the rape case,” he says in reference to the alleged rape of a PNG Transfield worker by three Australian Wilson Security guards, who were then swiftly repatriated off the island.
“One law for the locals, and no laws for the expats. The locals don’t matter, and the expats get off, they can do what they like.
“Our two boys up the road here,” Knight says, pointing in the direction of the jail, “they are facing a murder charge. They get thrown under the bus while everybody else gets off scot-free.”
Others Guardian Australia spoke to on Manus Island said the two local boys had been made “scapegoats” for expat offenders.
“This is how it always is,” one local man who used to work in the detention centre said. “There are no laws for them, and our lives are worthless.”
One of the asylum seekers who watched Barati die told Guardian Australia he still had nightmares reliving his friend’s murder, and he was devastated that not all of those who killed him would ever be brought to justice.
“Reza was my best friend in the world. He and I were in Indonesia together, we went to Australia together, we were on the same boat. He was my best friend, we were always roommates, always, because we are both Kurdish.
“They killed him in front of me. He was very generous, words can’t describe his personality. He was so good. He was not a smoker, but he was always buying cigarettes for people.
“You can’t find one person in this place who has any problems with him, who will say a bad thing about him. But your government killed him.”