On the 23rd of February a hearing was conducted by the Mental Health Tribunal (MHT) in regards to the fate of Saeed Dezfouli, a prisoner wrongfully held in indefinite detention by the NSW mental health system. Presided by Richard Cogswell and two other members of the MHT, the hearing was also attended by the head of Long Bay Forensic Hospital, Dr Andrew Ellis, head psychiatrist, Dr Sathish Dayalan, and nurses. Saeed Dezfouli represented himself at the hearing with Justice Action coordinator and primary carer Brett Collins by his side.
An SBS reporter was also expected to be present, only to be denied access moments before the hearing due to the hospital’s “confusion.” This was despite the SBS having sought permission prior to what was meant to be an “open hearing”. Saeed protested against the tribunal’s brazen attempt to “smother” the issue, and sought an adjournment until SBS was rightfully given access. Cogswell eventually conceded, and SBS was granted access via teleconference.
At the hearing Saeed read an impassioned statement to the Mental Health Tribunal. Most notably, Saeed stated that:
“If I don’t die in here, if I ever survive this and repatriate to Iran, in Iran I will do to Australia and its international reputation what Edward Snowden did to America and its international reputation…. You and your tribunal have no honor, no dignity, no morality, no principle, no values and no fairness.”
Saeed vehemently condemned the NSW mental health system for their inhumane treatment practices, particularly in regards to the privacy and sexual abuse that he suffered at the hands of medical staff. Of particular importance, a causal link was drawn between Saeed’s maltreatment and his reduced lifespan- a shocking decrease of 10-15 years due to a myriad of health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure that stemmed from his forced medication. In light of these inhumane conditions Saeed demanded for his unconditional repatriation back to Iran, and threatened a dry hunger strike should his demand not be met.
Cogswell argued that the Mental Health Tribunal was bound by the law, most notably s 43 of the Mental Health Act 2007 (NSW). Release would only be granted if Saeed did not pose a risk to his own safety and that of others, included citizens of Iran who needed to be protected by Australian style mental health processes. The Iranians believe Saeed should be repatriated, stating they had no concerns and felt Saeed deserves a fair go and to return to family in Iran. Cogswell refused to take into consideration Saeed’s threats of a hunger strike. Despite a lack of any evidence, Dr Sathish Dayalan determined that Saeed would indeed pose a risk to people in Iran.
Brett Collins then spoke up, dispelling the Mental Health Tribunal’s farcical case. Brett drew light to the fact that throughout Saeed’s 16-year incarceration he has never been violent or aggressive to anyone, and thus proven himself to not be a danger to himself nor others. If released to Iran, Saeed would be surrounded by family members and supported by a directly nominated psychiatrist if needed. He would finally be given the appropriate standard of care and support in accordance with s 68 of the Mental Health Act.
At the conclusion of hearing the Tribunal said that they had no intention of releasing Saeed, citing that although they were satisfied that Saeed would not pose a risk to the Iranian public, there was a high chance of non-compliance with the coercive Australian mental health standards should Saeed be repatriated to Iran.
Saeed’s plight exposes the corruption of the mental health system, one that prioritises strict obedience and submission over that of patient welfare.