ON A MISSION: Author Behrouz Boochani speaks via video link to a packed Byron Bay Writers Festival audience about his book No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison and his ongoing life in detention.
ON A MISSION: Author Behrouz Boochani speaks via video link to a packed Byron Bay Writers Festival audience about his book No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison and his ongoing life in detention. Amber Gibson

Crowd weeps for author

A DISTRESSED audience left one of Byron Bay Writers Festival's main stages after listening to guest Behrouz Boochani talk about his experience as a Kurdish refugee who is incarcerated in the Manus Island immigration detention centre.

Mr Boochani is a writer, human rights defender and political prisoner who has been held on Manus Island for the past five years after fleeing Iran and seeking asylum in Australia.

While detained, Mr Boochani wrote and published the book No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison, which he said aimed to try to share with Australians what life is like inside the prison.

600 guests filled every seat in the house to listen to Mr Boochani, who appeared on screen via a video link from Manus.

His message to the crowd spoke about the ongoing struggle for freedom among hundreds of refugees and he pleaded for the government to put an end to the policy of offshore detention.

"They don't recognise us as a human,” he said.

"They have established and designed a system to take our identity, they call us as a number.

Mr Boochani said he chose to name the characters in his book, a specific, so he could make the refugees 'beautiful' again, push against the process of identifying prisoners by numbers and allow his fellow prisoners to reclaim some identity.

"It is my mission as a writer that I share this story,” he said.

No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison won the Victorian Prize for Literature at the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards this year.

Mr Boochani not mentioned that his book not only shares stories about the prison and its prisoners but about the philosophy of love and morality.

On stage, chair Geordie Williamson, translator and academic philosopher Omid Tofighian and illustrator Alex Mankiewicz spoke about their involvement helping Mr Boochani create the book.

Ms Mankiewicz who created a graphic narrative to further tell Mr Boochani's story said her illustrations depicted his early life, 'crucially talking about why he leaves and why he had to leave Iran'.

She speaks about her drawings showing a scene where Mr Boochani is counting the months and years he has been in prison by marking on the wall.

”How long is this going to be?,” she said.

"We are now at least 18 months, if not two years further on, which is just disgraceful.

Deb Hirst, who travelled from Sydney to attend the festival and has read the book, said she found the book a desperately sad read.

"There doesn't seem to be any solution, so throughout it, while reading it, the sadness that he portrays throughout the book about what is happening to him and what is still happening to him is desperately sad. There doesn't seem to be any political party picking up on it,” she said.



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