Papua New Guinea aims to stop Manus Island inquiry as new legal bid begins

Asylum seekers facing indefinite detention on Manus Island have launched a new legal bid for freedom. At the same time, the Papua New Guinean government has moved to shut down a second inquiry into human rights at the centre, while the future of people housed there remains unclear.

Sydney barrister Jay Williams initiated the challenge on behalf of detainees at the Lorengau District Court on Monday before returning to the centre to take statements from asylum seekers.

The challenge will argue that the asylum seekers' detention is unlawful because they were deported from Australia to PNG against their will; that their detention is arbitrary and indefinite; and that conditions in the centre are inhumane and degrading.

It is the latest legal move after PNG's government challenged the impartiality of the judge who initiated a human rights inquiry into the detention centre and gave the media access to the centre last week.

When the PNG government was granted an order effectively shutting down the inquiry at least until court action on Wednesday, Justice David Cannings instituted a second inquiry and granted Mr Williams access to the centre.

PNG's Immigration and Foreign Affairs Minister, Rimbink Pato, said the government was acting because Justice Cannings, a former human rights lawyer, was presiding over the inquiry he had initiated and it was calling experts without complying with ''proper processes under PNG law''.

He said that PNG was acting ''in partnership'' with the Australian government.

He was particularly concerned that Justice Cannings had taken expert testimony from an Australian doctor and given Mr Williams access to the centre.

Justice Cannings instituted his inquiry into human rights at the centre after an asylum seeker was killed and scores of other asylum seekers were injured, allegedly after PNG nationals employed as security guards entered the centre.

But just as PNG's Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill, said the country would only take ''some'' refugees whose asylum claims were processed in the country, Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the resettlement agreement with PNG remained ''very clear''.

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