By Matt Siegel
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Two of the six aboriginal children teargassed by police while in custody in Australia are being counter-sued by the Northern Territory government for damaging the prison in an escape attempt, according to court documents.
Prison footage broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corp this week showed the boys stripped naked, hooded and strapped to a chair, thrown by the neck into a cell and held in solitary confinement. The video from a juvenile detention center near Darwin in the Northern Territory was shot between 2010-2014.
Documents from the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory lodged in June by the boys, whose names were redacted, outline in vivid detail mistreatment by staff at the facility, including beatings with batons and the use of teargas.
The documents were part of a lawsuit filed by the prisoners against the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre and its guards, seeking damages for the abuse they suffered while in custody.
In a July 4 response to those claims, the Northern Territory government counter-sued, seeking more than A$160,000 ($120,400.00) in damages for an escape attempt in which two of the boys stole a car, before using it to ram a roller-door and re-enter the prison.
The government is seeking interest on the damages and the reimbursement of its legal costs.
Lawyers for the two boys named in the escape, Jake Roper and Dylan Voller, declined to comment on the case.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ordered a Royal Commission in the treatment of children in the detention center, the most powerful inquiry in the country, although he has rejected calls for a broader national inquiry.
U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, said that the use of hoods, restraints and teargas on Australian aboriginal children in youth detention centers by police could violate the U.N. treaty barring torture.
The Northern Territory’s corrections minister was sacked on Tuesday, just hours after the broadcast, and has since suspended the use of hoods and restraints on children.
The case highlights concern about the disproportionate numbers of aboriginal youth in custody, with indigenous leaders calling for politicians to deal with the wider issue of the treatment of Aborigines in Australia.
Aborigines comprise just three percent of Australia’s population but make up 27 percent of those in prison and represent 94 percent of the Northern Territory’s juvenile inmates.
Australia’s roughly 700,000 indigenous citizens track near the bottom of almost every economic and social indicator for the country’s 23 million people.
($1 = 1.3289 Australian dollars)
(Editing by Michael Perry)