TV news report alleges widespread abuse at Northern Territory juvenile detention center
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says revelations left him "shocked and appalled"
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for a national investigation into allegations of abuse and torture at a juvenile detention center.
The allegations, which appeared on Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s “Four Corners” investigative program, showed children as young as 10 being stripped naked, assaulted, tear-gassed and kept in solitary confinement.
“Like all Australians, I have been deeply shocked, shocked and appalled, by the images of mistreatment at the Don Dale center” in Darwin, the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory, Turnbull said.
“We will get to the bottom of what happened here. … We want to know why there were inquiries into this center which did not turn up the evidence and the information that we saw on ‘Four Corners’ last night.’ “
Turnbull said he had met with the Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles and Australian Attorney-General George Brandis.
In a statement, Peter O’Brien, a lawyer who is representing two of the boys highlighted in the report, said the government’s investigation “must be as expansive as possible.”
“It needs to scrutinize all tiers of the Northern Territory prison hierarchy, from the guards who perpetrated the abuse right up to the Chief Minister,” the statement said.
The program also showed footage of a teenage boy in a different detention center in the Northern Territory, hooded and strapped to a chair half-naked in what a lawyer described to ABC as Guantanamo Bay-style treatment.
Dylan Voller, then 17, had a hood placed over his head, and his ankles, wrists and neck were shackled in a detention center in Alice Springs in 2015 after, authorities say, he threatened to hurt himself, ABC reported.
Voller also was one of six teens who the ABC report said were tear-gassed in 2014 at the Don Dale center in Darwin, about 1,290 kilometers (800 miles) northwest of Alice Springs.
During that incident, ABC reported, tear-gas canisters were fired into an area after a boy escaped from his cell. The tear gas affected the escapee as well as five boys who still were locked in their cells, ABC reported.
Voller’s mother, Joanne Voller, told ABC last year – after allegations of the Alice Springs hood and chair incident first surfaced – that she believed her son had been mistreated more than once while in custody.
‘Those responsible must be held to account’
Gillian Triggs, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, said the news report showed an inquiry was needed into juvenile detention centers.
“If one of us were to have been found to have treated our children in this way, we would probably be charged with a criminal offense and the children taken away from us,” Triggs said, according to CNN affiliate 7 News.
Other politicians have also expressed their outrage at the report. Sarah Henderson, a member of Parliament for Corangamite, said on Twitter that the abuse shown in the “Four Corners” special amounted to “child torture.”
“Those responsible must be held to account for these crimes,” she said.
Mick Gooda, Australia’s aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner, called for the Northern Territory government to be “sacked.”
In a statement, Giles, the Northern Territory chief minister, said he had taken over the Correctional Services portfolio, which includes the Don Dale center, removing John Elferink as minister.
Giles added that police have “formed a Special Task Force under its Special References Unit, and the issues raised in the ‘Four Corners’ program last night (have been) declared a Major Investigation.”
“Anybody who saw that footage on television last night on ‘Four Corners’ would undoubtedly describe it as horrific footage,” Giles said at a news conference Tuesday, according to ABC. “I sat and watched the footage and recognized horror through my eyes.”
In a statement, Human Rights Watch said it “seemed short-sighted to limit the royal commission purely to one facility,” and called on Turnbull to “order an end to the practice of solitary confinement of children.”
CNN’s Jason Hanna and journalist Sandi Sidhu contributed to this report.