Banding together to cry freedom

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Opinion

Banding together to cry freedom

By Jim Moginie

Towards the end of his eight years in detention – Australia’s answer to his plea for refuge – Mostafa Azimitabar wrote a song called Love. He’d been medevaced from Manus Island to Melbourne where, from the imprisonment of a hotel room, he could see people outside waving placards demanding his freedom. Jimmy Barnes sent Mostafa a guitar as a gift. Within 10 minutes of receiving it, he’d written his catchy little song, which began:

I’m looking at you from my window/ I want to tell you that I love you.

It dealt not with the trials of his captivity but the love he felt from his supporters.

Refugee Mostafa ‘Moz’ Azimitabar, second from left, with Midnight Oil members Jim Moginie, Martin Rotsey, Peter Garrett and Rob Hirst.

Refugee Mostafa ‘Moz’ Azimitabar, second from left, with Midnight Oil members Jim Moginie, Martin Rotsey, Peter Garrett and Rob Hirst.

On Wednesday night, he returned some more of that love at Sydney Town Hall, where I was among musicians who shared the stage with Mostafa, or Moz as we’ve come to know him. A free man at last at 34, Moz was there for a gig called Band Together, a concert for freedom hosted by Amnesty International and Sydney City Council.

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Mostafa Azimitabar was born in Kermanshah to the sound of gunfire, sirens and bombs. In Iran, the area around Kermanashah is known as the cradle of civilisation, where skeletal remains of Neanderthals have been found in caves. The Iran-Iraq war was in full swing for four years before he was born. One of his brothers was killed when he was one; another was deafened by an
explosion; and another was arrested for speaking out.

Moz fled in 2013 and came to Christmas Island by boat with many others seeking a better life. They were sent instead into offshore detention on Manus Island, where Moz saw friends shot, stabbed by their so-called protectors, and die by medical neglect or self-harm.

We started to correspond in 2019. He told me he wanted to write songs. I saw footage of him playing some lovely nylon string guitar. He sang with a sweet voice that spoke from his homeland.

Last year, Moz and 60 others were medevaced to Australia. He needed treatment for his asthma. I became concerned for him. I spoke to him to keep his morale up, though Moz said he was “friends with his solitude”. Doing a song together, I thought, would be good for his sanity, and for mine as I watched from the sidelines.

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Moz sent me a video of him playing his song on his guitar from Jimmy Barnes. Singing under harsh fluorescent lights, he seemed at ease, looking down the lens of his Samsung phone. I imported it into a music program, mapped the tempo and played some keyboards and some simple drums. With help from many friends, it became a bouncy pop song with a catchy hook, Eurovision-ready, on YouTube.

Refugee campaigner Craig Foster, centre, with Mostafa Moz’ Azimitabar, left, and  Farhad Bandesh, who were long held in captivity but are now free.

Refugee campaigner Craig Foster, centre, with Mostafa Moz’ Azimitabar, left, and  Farhad Bandesh, who were long held in captivity but are now free.

Peter Dutton announced the release of Moz and others in a carefully scripted statement. “It’s cheaper for people to be in the community than it is to be at a hotel or for us to be paying for them to be in detention.” No mention of the cruelty those people had endured, or that many Manus asylum seekers remain under detention here and in Papua New Guinea. Border protection is one thing, wanton cruelty another.

Moz was given a temporary visa on January 21, saying it was “the most beautiful moment in my life”. Two days later, he went to a Jimmy Barnes concert with fellow refugee and musician Farhad Bandesh. They met and embraced the Working Class Man and his wife, Jane. You can’t get more Australian that that, Scott Morrison.

In March, Moz was there when my Midnight Oil bandmates and I played Ships of Freedom at the Mt Duneed winery. ”I felt freedom,” he said. “I understand freedom. It’s like a scent! I love it. I am like a bird. I’m not nagging about anything.”

Not nagging, but respectfully asking for the freedom of those still detained. He did it again at Town Hall on Wednesday night, where he performed with Farhad Bandesh.

Go well Moz.

Jim Moginie is a member of Australian rock band Midnight Oil.

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