December 5, 2010

MEDIA RELEASE: 5 December2010

Australian Hysteria over WikiLeaks and Julian Assange Risks Long Term Damage to Freedom of Speech

“The Australian Prime Minister and Attorney-General are risking long term damage to freedom of speech in Australia by accusing Julian Assange and WikiLeaks of breaches of criminal law”, President of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, Stephen Keim SC, said today.

“The accusations made against Assange and WikiLeaks raise particular concern in the case of the Attorney-General in that he has acknowledged, on ABC radio in Brisbane, that there is little likelihood at all that any Australian laws have been breached”, said Mr. Keim. “Although the Attorney-General is entitled to disagree with – even protest – the actions taken, it is a particularly objectionable misuse of political hyperbole in these circumstances to make sweeping allegations of illegality”, Mr. Keim said. “It involves a degree of intimidation that is likely to (and appears intended to) deter others from engaging in serious political debate on the possibility that it may offend those who hold the machinery of power”.

“There are other aspects of the government’s response to the release of diplomatic cables that undermine principles of freedom of speech. The government has done nothing to protest, or at least treat with cautious scepticism, what may well be misuse of sexual assault allegations by Swedish prosecutors for political reasons. Rather, the Attorney-General has been at pains in his public statements to defend the Swedish prosecutors and publicise their allegations”, said Mr. Keim. “The government should be insisting that prosecutorial actions taken against Australian citizens should meet the highest standards of probity and objectivity”.

“The Attorney-General has also given credence to the possibility that the government might cancel Mr. Assange’s passport. It seems entirely inappropriate that statutory powers of such seriousness should be contemplated because a person has placed political material of an embarrassing nature into the public sphere”, said Mr. Keim.

“The government’s resort to hyperbole and heavy handed use of state power detracts from its political message”, said Mr. Keim. “If the government wishes to argue that it is better for the Australian public to be kept ignorant of secret war advocacy by some allies and potentially illegal espionage by others, it would be better to make that case directly”, said Mr. Keim.