PEN Perth Statement on AFP Raids

As an organisation committed to defending responsible freedom of expression and protecting a free press, PEN Perth is deeply concerned about today’s Australian Federal Police raids on the ABC’s Sydney headquarters over a series of articles published in 2017 called ‘The Afghan Files’, as well as the raids on News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst’s Canberra home yesterday for her reporting on a separate case. [1][2]

‘The Afghan Files’ by Dan Oakes and Sam Clark reported upon ‘clandestine operations of Australia’s elite special forces in Afghanistan, including incidents of troops killing unarmed men and children.’[3] The raids on Smethurst’s home have been linked to a 2018 article which contained information suggesting Australia’s surveillance agency, the Australian Signals Directorate, was attempting to broaden its powers to spy on Australian citizens.[4]

Both of these targeted cases have exposed government security secrets and there are concerns that the policing of them relates to bipartisan espionage laws passed in June 2018. Passed by the Liberal government, and supported by the Labor opposition, these laws created criminal offences that can carry life sentences. They expanded the definition of “national security” to an extremely broad interpretation that included “economic and political relations” with other countries.[5]

PEN Perth is concerned by the government’s desire to undermine the Australian press’ reporting on decisions and processes made by the government, and their desire to suppress the Australian public’s right to know those decisions and processes, particularly through the pursuit and intimidation of whistleblowers. We believe that these raids present a threat to democracy. 

We join a growing list of organisations who are distressed about these recent activities and we join with them in condemning the raids by the AFP. PEN Perth calls on the government to explain these threatening acts of intimidation directed toward journalists who are simply doing a job that is valuable for the whole of Australian society. 

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right in a free society and has long been regarded as central to Australian values. More to come on this developing story. 

For further details contact PEN Perth, 100 Aberdeen Street, Northbridge, WA, email: perthpen@gmail.com, web: penperth.org

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