The proposed extradition of Julian Assange
The extradition hearing for Julian Assange continues in London. Assange is currently being held in Belmarsh Prison, a category A jail on the outskirts of London, where men convicted of terrorism offences are held. He has limited access to his legal counsel, relegated to sit behind a glass window in the dock. For Assange and his family, the situation is dire.
You can follow the hearing extradition updates, through the writings of Historian, Former Ambassador and Human Rights Activist, Craig Murray, 'Your Man in the Public Gallery', HERE.
Murray feels that the only possible conclusion from recent testimony (on 22nd September), is that 'the performance of the representative of the United States Government was, in and of itself, full and sufficient evidence that there is no possibility that Julian Assange will receive fair consideration and treatment of his mental health issues within the United States system. The US government has just demonstrated that to us, in open court, to perfection.'
Public support for Assange
Every week day at Sydney's Town Hall from 4-6pm, Assange supporters hold a vigil/demonstration calling to "Free Julian Assange". For the past 43 weeks, supporters have gathered every Friday, but as momentum builds at the Old Bailey, so too supporters have ramped up their vigil to every weekday until the extradition trial ends in the UK. NSWCCL members/supporters have been invited to take part to show solidarity.
Numerous online petitions are circulating to Free Assange, Stop the Extradition and Bring Assange Home. A Change.org petition started by Brisbane resident Philip Adams in 2019, now has almost 525,000 signatures.
A great number of notable journalists have spoken in support of Assange and confirmed what is at stake for free speech and for journalists across the world. Quentin Dempster notes;
'All the issues that so concern us about our democratic freedoms in this the age of pandemic, terror and mass cyber surveillance, and now, additionally with a heightened fear of war: with China, with North Korea, with Iran, with Russia, are being tested through the extradition proceedings against Julian Paul Assange... And if at the Old Bailey, Julian Assange is extradited to the United States to be jailed for life for informing us about war crimes, misjudgements, incompetence and atrocities, we democracies will be destroying our own professed values.'
Bringing allies from across the spectrum together, the Parliamentary Friends of the Bring Julian Assange Home Group is chaired by Andrew Wilkie MP and George Christensen MP. Andrew Wilke states, "If we want to guarantee every Australian the right to a fair trial, and every journalist the right to report official misconduct, we must oppose this extradition and allow Assange to return to Australia." The Australian Assange campaign has a tool to help you write to your Federal Member to request their support for this Parliamentary group.
NSWCCL advocacy for Assange
As we noted in April 2019, after Assange was arrested, the prosecution of Assange poses a threat to other journalists who encourage sources to leak information, and then help them protect their anonymity. In addition to the life of an Australian journalist, there is a great deal at stake.
In March this year, NSWCCL wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a public letter copied to all Members of Parliament.
NSWCCL calls on the Australian Government to intervene to protect the rights of Julian Assange who is facing the increasingly likely prospect of his extradition to the USA to face trial on 17 offences under the Espionage Act 1917 and one ‘conspiracy to commit computer intrusion’ charge and almost certain incarceration in a high security prison for the rest of his life.
Assange’s current position is desperate and dangerous. His mental and physical health have been seriously compromised. He is imprisoned in a high security London gaol with limited capacity to communicate with his legal team. His extradition proceedings in London give the appearance of bias and an almost certainly predetermined outcome. It appears that he has been, and will continue to be, unfairly treated within UK courts. If he is extradited to the USA, he will face charges which will cumulatively expose him to 175 years’ imprisonment.
The treatment of Assange by the US and the UK governments since 2010 has been unjust, cruel and clearly politically motivated.
We also attended the Free Assange Rally in Sydney in February 2020, where Dr Lesley Lynch, Convenor of our National Security and Counter-Terrorism Action Group, spoke alongside journalists, activists and supporting organisations calling for an end to Assange's detainment and his return to Australia.
Dr Lynch pointed out that in 2013, at the NSWCCL AGM, we formally recognised Assange (and Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden) as "courageous, global champions of democracy who have made, at great personal cost, extraordinary contributions to civil society by challenging the excessive secrecy of the state".
We condemned 'the unprecedented and ferocious attack on and relentless pursuit by the USA and other states of Assange and Manning and Snowdon as traitors and spies'. We noted: 'These attacks pose a global threat to the capacity of a free press to inform the people - and to the citizens’ right to know what governments are doing in their name.'
*In June 2017, Australian citizen James Ricketson, was sentenced to six years in prison in Cambodia for espionage. The Australian government intervened in Ricketson's case when it became clear, on the basis of evidence presented in court, that Ricketson was not a spy, but a filmmaker and journalist.
James has himself written to the 'Members of the Australian Parliament' urging them to speak out in support of Assange - 'If you believe that Assange is not a spy, will you speak out, as some of your fellow parliamentarians have?'
NSWCCL recently joined other organisations and individuals in reaffirming our support for Julian Assange in the context of his fight against extradition to the USA. We spoke at the Assange rally in Sydney in February and subsequently sent a public letter to the Prime Minister urging the Australian Government to take effective action to support Assange in his fight against extradition and assist his return to Australia.
Assange’s situation is desperate and dangerous. His mental and physical health have been seriously compromised. He is imprisoned in a London gaol with limited capacity to communicate with his legal team. If he is extradited to the USA, he will face charges which will expose him to a likely outcome of life imprisonment in a high security gaol.
The relentless pursuit of Julian Assange over the last decade has been politically motivated, cruel and unjustifiable. In our view he has not engaged in criminal activity. Assange and wikileaks published truthful information about shocking and wrongful activities - including war crimes - which had been kept secret.
The public had an unquestionable right to know about these actions done in their name. Their publication constituted public interest journalism for which NSWCCL will continue to defend Assange.
The implications of this pursuit of Assange go well beyond his personal fate. The determination of the USA to capture and severely punish Assange is a politically motivated enterprise aimed not only at him, but at warning off future whistle-blowers and journalists who might contemplate exposing secret US Government information in the public interest.
The calculated decision to charge Assange under the US Espionage Act 1917 is particularly disturbing. If Assange is successfully prosecuted for these offences, it will have global implications for journalists and the free press and will challenge the strength of protection provided to journalists by the First Amendment’s prohibition of any US law ‘abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press’.Read more
The PJCIS is reviewing the legislation that established the excessive mandatory data retention regime in 2015.
This review is happening at a timely moment as the Australian community ponders the implications of the extraordinary AFP raids on the ABC and a News Limited journalist a few weeks ago. We were not surprised at the AFP raids on the ABC and other journalists. These intimidatory raids are an inevitable consequence of Australia's large expanding suite of surveillance and secrecy laws.
The mass data collection regime which is retained to allow access by intelligence and police officers is an important element of these laws and in itself poses a clear and major threat to journalists and whistle-blowers.
Not surprisingly it was hugely controversial legislation and generated widespread, vehement opposition from civil liberties/human rights groups, journalists and media organisations, privacy and IT groups and many others.
NSWCCL joined with other councils for civil liberties to oppose the Bill. We put in a Joint CCLs submission to the PJCIS and when it recommended an amended version of the Bill be passed by Parliament, we wrote to all Senators – as the last chance forum - urging them to abandon this indiscriminate and excessive collection of all Australian residents data and replace it with a less intrusive regime which targets only suspects.
While we failed to block the passage of the legislation, some concessions were achieved – including a ‘fix’ to protect journalists through a special Journalist Information Warrant and a review of the regime after three years. This is the review year.
Joint CCLs current position
We maintain our strong opposition to the legislation as disproportionate and incompatible with a healthy democracy. In our new submission we have again argued it should be repealed or significantly amended.
We are hopeful that some improvements to the legislation will result from this review, especially much needed safeguards - such as warrant approval for access to the retained telecommunications data. It is not likely that the PJCIS will recommend, or the Government approve repeal of the legislation.
The CCLs argue that the mandatory data retention regime is but one element of many excessive provisions in Australia’s uniquely large body of national security and counter-terrorism legislation. It is crucial for there to be a review of the cumulative chilling and intimidatory impact of the Government's expanded surveillance powers and secrecy offences relating to Government activity.
In reaction to public and media outrage the Government has now established a separate inquiry into the ‘impact of the exercise of law enforcement and intelligence powers on the freedom of the press’ to be conducted by the PJCIS.
We will be making a submission to this review – and arguing that that the PJCIS is not the appropriate Committee to conduct this inquiry as it has supported all the surveillance and secrecy legislation causing the problem.
Sacrificing Civil Liberties to Counter Terrorism: Where Will it End?
2018 John Marsden Lecture, NSW Council for Civil Liberties, 22 November 2018
My talk relates to a long-standing problem:
how to protect the community from terrorism, while at the same time respecting fundamental human rights, such as freedom of speech and the right to a fair trial
This problem has become especially acute in recent times. Governments around the world have responded to the tragic events of September 11, the London 2005 bombings and other attacks by enacting laws that confer extraordinary powers upon governments and their agencies. Such laws may be directed to protecting the community, but they are in the risk of undermining the very freedoms we are seeking to protect from terrorism.
George Williams delivering the 2018 John Marsden Lecture.Read more
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties condemns the appalling act of terrorism that was inflicted last Friday upon people peacefully at prayer in Christchurch.
On Friday night, President of the Council, Pauline Wright, said “Our thoughts are with the people of Christchurch in all their diversity. NSW Council for Civil Liberties supports the rights of people of faith to observe their religions, no matter whether in a synagogue, temple, church or mosque. It is a dark day for our sisters and brothers across the Tasman and our hearts go out to them.”Read more
Two needed bills abandoned - one flawed and reckless bill waved though – a sad day in the Australian Parliament.
On Thursday, the last chaotic day of the Parliamentary session, the Prime Minister declared he would do all in his power to thwart the majority will of parliament.
His stated motive was to stop Parliament from passing legislation requiring the transfer of refugee children in need of medical care from Nauru to Australia for treatment. His deeper motive was to avoid his Government suffering a Parliamentary defeat on substantive legislation.
He succeeded by filibustering in the Senate and when the Bill was eventually passed by a majority of senators, by closing down the House of Representatives so the Bill could not be considered there.
This was shameful – both in process and outcome.
Also a casualty was the promised legislation to protect GLBTQI students from discrimination in private schools. This was both deeply disappointing and a breach of the Prime Minister’s commitment to act on this issue before Christmas.
Astonishingly the Government was also prepared to sacrifice its 'encryption' legislation that it had repeatedly insisted was so urgent the PJCIS had to abort its review process so the public could be better protected from terrorist incidents over Christmas.
The Labor Opposition then took the extraordinary decision to wave through the 'encryption' Bill without moving any of its own tabled amendments - in full knowledge of the many problems that remained in the Bill.
Its motive was to avoid being wedged on a national security issue. The outcome is that Australia has another flawed and disproportionate counter-terrorism law.
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has condemned the push by the Federal Government to advance new laws further stripping away the rights of Australians.
The text of the new bills has not been released. According to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, they will impose conditions on the control, return and re-entry of Australians who have been in conflict zones. They will also make it easier to strip citizenship from Australians who have been convicted of terrorism offences.Read more
On Thursday, June 7, New South Wales Attorney-General Mark Speakman announced that the government would adopt the recommendations of a review of the Terrorism (Police Powers) Act 2002 by the Department of Justice. The report made 13 recommendations in relation to the legislation.
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) notes with concern that the recommendations make little attempt to substantively change the laws, or to otherwise restore civil liberties. There is little attempt to reign in police powers in any meaningful way, which is why CCL opposed these laws in the first place.Read more
NSWCCL worked with other councils for civil liberties through January and February to respond to the large, complex and alarming Espionage and Foreign Intervention Bill 2017 and the related Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill 2017.
These Bills are part of a major package of proposed legislation relating to national security and foreign intervention which also included three other bills: the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017, the Security of Critical Infrastructure Bill 2017 and the Home Affairs and Integrity Agencies Legislation Amendment Bill 2017.
These Bills encompassed much beyond foreign intervention and national security. They also encompass an extraordinary multi-faceted attack on civil society’s right to participate in public political discourse.
This attack included a massive expansion of national secrecy laws capturing not just public officials but also any person who makes an unauthorized disclosure of information covered by these laws. Journalists rightly protested that the secrecy laws effectively criminalised every phase of journalists work. Charities and independent advocacy bodies like GetUp were targeted so as to undermine their participation in public political discourse. Many of the offences carry very serious penalties – in the case of general secrecy offences more than doubling current penalties.
The PM rightly described this package as ‘the most important overhaul of our counterintelligence legislative framework since the 1970s’. It was therefore a disgrace that we were only given a few weeks to comment on them. Strong protests from civil society groups eventually gained an extension into mid/late February.
Few organisations were able to respond to all the Bills in this timeframe. NSWCCL in conjunction with the Joint CCLs prepared submissions on the large and important Espionage and Foreign Intervention Bill 2017 and the Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill. We failed to get in a submission on the equally alarming Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017.
The reaction from civil society and the media – and the Law Council of Australia (LCA) - has been ferocious. The Attorney-General Christian Porter responded with a package of amendments to alleviate the impact of the secrecy offences on journalists.
This was a smart and positive move by the AG. His proposed amendments to his own Bill were in line with recommendations made by civil society and the LCA – however they are a long way from solving the very problems with these Bills.
The Parliamentary Committee on intelligence and security will report on the most significant of these Bills in April. In the interim NSWCCL will do what it can to persuade Parliament not to pass these Bills - and certainly not in their current form.
Dr Lesley Lynch
Vice-President NSWCCLRead more
In a surprising -and disappointing- intervention Minister Dutton has written to the Muslim Legal Network (MLN) querying the intention behind a section of their recently launched guide to anti-terrorism laws: ASIO, the Police and You.
The clear implication from the Minister was that the MLN were intentionally providing guidance to assist persons with terrorist or related criminal intentions to avoid detection by the Australian Border Force or AFP.
The extraordinary thing about this totally unwarranted distortion of the clear intentions of the guide (and its three earlier editions since 2004) was that the specific section cited as disturbing by the Minister was closely modelled on advice provided by a NSW Regional Coordinator of the Australian Border Force and their own official fact sheet "Border Advice for Hajj Traveller" issued in 2015.
As anyone reading this document would know the intentions behind the publication are totally constructive and positive.
This guide was produced for the same reason the three earlier editions were: to provide the community with a clear and understandable description of these laws and the rights and responsibilities of citizens in relation to them. Surely that is a positive!
The MLN has replied to the Minister and circulated a media statement repudiating his sinister interpretation of the guide. Nonetheless, they will slightly amend the wording to more strongly emphasise their positive intention.
NSWCCL considers the Minister's distorted interpretation to be deeply disturbing. We hope it does not signal an unwarranted and biased focus on this community guide to C-T laws because it was produced by a Muslim legal network.
We commend this 4th edition of ASIO, the Police and You. It provides a much needed service to the community - and we are very pleased that NSWCCL has contributed to all of the editions since 2004.
Dr Lesley Lynch