“I am a patient with patients’ rights, an inmate with inmates’ rights and a human being with human rights. These rights have been fundamentally and severely violated by unprofessional and sadistic state government employees in the positions of psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses and prison officers. They are required to go by the law, regulations, policy and procedures, codes of conduct practice and ethics, but they don’t.”
- Saeed Dezfouli
The NSW Health Department’s mental hospital is getting exposure through the window of patient Saeed Dezfouli. His case significantly highlights the issue with government bureaucracies dealing with challenging people at the individual level, lacking compassion, concern, or rational behaviour.
Saeed Dezfouli was born in Iran in 1958 and came to Australia in 1983. Upon arriving in Australia as a refugee, he earned a degree in Bachelor of Arts and majored in political sciences. In 1986 he became a citizen of Australia and was working as a court interpreter for the Ethnic Affairs Commission NSW. Throughout 2001, he became fearful of his life and safety and stated that he had been receiving death threats. He felt that he was constantly under surveillance. He said that he warned the authorities by sending them letters about his concerns for 5 months prior to the offence.
He was accused of setting fire to the foyer of the Community Relations Commission (formerly the Ethnic Affairs Commission) at Ashfield by using a container of petrol. Three female employees were trapped by the flames and were taken to hospital in an unconscious state. One of them, a 53-year-old woman from Bonnyrigg, subsequently died from her injuries. Most importantly there were other mitigating factors. Unfortunately on the day of the fire the emergency fire exit door was locked and the rubbish in the foyer hadn’t been collected and the rubbish blocked the path of the employees escaping the smoke and flames. He was taken to Burwood police station where he was insulted, assaulted and unlawfully interrogated by the NSW Police. He was subsequently charged with several offences.
In contrast to his treatment, Saeed presents no threat to the community. He needs support as an Iranian refugee affected by a heart condition and stress. Saeed is evidently remorseful for his actions and has regrets for what he has done.
However, the main issue that needs to be raised is the irresponsibility demonstrated by the authorities by ignoring his claims that subsequently triggered Saeed’s unlawful actions. Saeed did everything within his power to communicate his concerns to authorities, yet these threats were not taken seriously and Saeed followed through by setting fire to a government office. Although he clearly outlined his intentions, the threats were not deemed serious enough to warrant an investigation, highlight the failure of response mechanisms by government officials.
This tragedy would never have happened in the first place if proper health and police intervention frameworks were enacted.
DETENTION IN LONG BAY FORENSIC HOSPITAL
Mr. Dezfouli has been in detention since 19 January 2002. On 13 February 2002 Saeed was transferred to Long Bay Prison Hospital and in 2004 he was found not guilty due to mental illness. Mr. Dezfouli is not a violent or aggressive man, as has been stated many times by his treating doctors and nurses. He is highly intelligent, articulate and politically aware. He presents no threat to the community and had not intended the harm that was caused more than 9 years ago.
If Saeed was tried through the criminal justice system he would have already served his time and been released. However, because he was tried through the mental health system, he has served a period of over 9 years to date and is now being held indefinitely, despite ongoing reviews with the Mental Health Review Tribunal.
Mr. Dezfouli, up until the middle of July 2011, was held in the highest security area at Long Bay Forensic Hospital, which he shared with 7 other patients who are classified in the “lowest functioning group.” He was, and is continued to be denied access to ground leave and has restricted access to a small courtyard. Saeed, along with fellow patients, are denied any access to education facilities, despite education as one of the aims of the Rehabilitation wing in which he is currently held.
Since his imprisonment, Saeed has been held indefinitely and subjected to continuous abuse, including:
- Numerous periods kept naked in a solitary confinement cell for days to “break him down”.
- Broken ribs and severe bruising and pain from forced medication.
- Periods of incarceration in cells without basic hygiene, such as four days without toilet paper.
- In January 2005, he was brutally assaulted by DCS officers resulting in a permanent back injury.
- Hospitalization due to injuries inflicted by DCS officers.
Mr. Dezfouli now suffers from a heart condition, ulcers and diabetes as a result of the side effects of anti-psychotic medications combined with daily exposure to an oppressive and suppressive regimen.
DEFENDING HIS RIGHTS
Saeed is in a unique position. He has watched the system from inside for nine years and continues to point out its hypocrisy, whilst Justice Health (an arm of the Health Department) tries to prevent his outcry and force him into submission with the rest of the patients. He is a gentle person – staff agree he is not violent, yet every two weeks he is restrained and forcibly injected with a powerful sedative, which leaves him feeling severely agitated and faceing negative side effects. He is refused a choice of psychiatrist, education and exercise and is not permitted new visitors. Justice Action became his Primary Carer when there was no one else.
His mistreatment is a result of Saeed protesting and fighting for his rights and the rights of his fellow inmates. Over the years he has made a number of complaints of assaults by staff, and sustained a hunger strike for his rights for 52 days. He was involved in a campaign to allow patients more time out of their cells, in which at the time they were spending a good part of the day locked inside their cells. He was also involved in the signing of a petition that stated:
“26 of the 30 patients at Long Bay Prison Hospital in the ward have complained to the Health Care Complaints Commission and the NSW Ombudsman about notes on their psychiatric conditions that are fabricated and saying the nurses and doctors rarely bother to talk to them. Several prisoners had gone on hunger strikes. Many patients have been overdosed and medicated against their will.”
Although Saeed forwarded the petition to the NSW Ombudsman, it was decided that the complaint would not be pursued and as such, the issues were not addressed. Attached to the petition was Saeed’s complaint about the issues regarding the medical treatment of patients inside Long Bay Forensic Hospital, some of the issues included:
- That the nurses do not provide adequate nursing care to patients;
- That the nurses fabricated notes and call them nurses’ notes;
- That the psychiatrists show up for a couple of days a week for a couple of hours a day, read the nurses’ notes and then write prescriptions without seeing patients;
- That some patients do not speak to a doctor for months;
- That many nurses do not speak to many patients for months.
We advise no further action occurred nor were any charges laid.
Justice Action believes that Mr. Dezfouli is suffering because he won’t be silenced. Justice Health has absolute power as patients have no finite sentences and are totally dependant on their treating psychiatrist. The principles of patients’ rights under section 68 of the Mental Health Act 2007 (NSW) do not apply in practice. In this system of “care”, no one cares.
Saeed appealed to the Supreme Court against the Mental Health Review Tribunal’s refusal to order changes to his treatment. The Tribunal and the Attorney General tried to block this first real appeal against its new powers to make orders, refusing to supply its decision, until an audio record proved Saeed’s entitlement. It appears that the Tribunal sees its role as supporting Justice Health and not making a separate judgment. The lack of complaint from those around Saeed demonstrates widespread abuse and how compromised individuals participating in the health system are.
CHALLENGE TO TRIBUNAL'S BAN ON SAEED'S NAME
An interpretation of The New South Wales Mental Health Act 2007 (MHA) by Justice Health is currently preventing Saeed Dezfouli from using his own name in his fight to gain freedom. Section 162 of the MHA states that:
(1) A person must not, except with the consent of the Tribunal, publish or broadcast the name of any person:
(a) to whom a matter before the Tribunal relates
Since this case involves significant matters affecting other patients, powers of Justice Health and that of the Mental Health Review Tribunal (MRHT), Saeed wants to ensure it is conducted openly in the public, which allows him to express himself in a manner that is open and honest. Justice Action agrees with him entirely as the secrecy has allowed abuses to occur in the past without adequate accountability.
Saeed argues that section 162 is intended to protect him from exploitation and exposure by the media, but instead it is being used to protect the Health Department from being held accountable for the treatment of citizens entitled to care and assistance. It has been used to prevent the exposure of a system that allows the abuse of the human rights of nameless, faceless, dehumanised mental health consumers.
In short, he wants his right to have his own name returned to him, and for the provision intended for his benefit, and not used to allow an abuse of power against him as a human being. We believe Saeed has the right to have his name distinguished from others and recognised as a unique individual.
While Mr. Dezfouli did commit an act that violated the criminal justice system, it does not mean he should be subjected to abuse by the mental health system. The fourteen years he has spent in custody is well above the sentencing trends for the offences he committed. However, unlike the average prisoner, Saeed faces no concrete release date and is faced with the possibility that he may spend the rest of his life within the forensic prison system as the Mental Health Review Tribunal refuses to provide him with the answers that he is entitled to. Just because Saeed Dezfouli has a mental illness, as diagnosed by the Health Department, does not mean that his rights, as a consumer of the criminal justice system and as a member of the Australian community, are no longer valid.