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WikiLeaks publishes 'unprecedented' secret Australian court suppression order

Date

Philip Dorling

Julian Assange: 'The Australian government is not just gagging the press, it is blindfolding the public.'

Julian Assange: 'The Australian government is not just gagging the press, it is blindfolding the public.' Photo: AFP

EXCLUSIVE

WikiLeaks has struck again, releasing the text of a secret court order that cannot be published in Australia.

The anti-secrecy group has this morning published a Victorian Supreme Court suppression order that WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange describes as “unprecedented” in scope. 

The suppression order is itself suppressed. No Australian media organisation can legally publish the document or its contents. 

In a statement provided to Fairfax Media, Assange said it was “completely egregious to block the public's right to know and suppress the media in any instance, and especially in cases of international corruption involving politicians and subsidiaries of a public organisation”.

“Despite the legal implications WikiLeaks publishes this suppression order, as it will others, to uphold our values of freedom of information and transparency of government - the Australian people have a right to know, we work to ensure this right for them, even when their government tries to obstruct it."

WikiLeaks suggests there has not been a comparable “blanket suppression order” since 1995 when the Australian government sought to suppress publication by Fairfax Media of details of a joint US-Australian espionage operation to bug a new Chinese embassy in Canberra.

Assange argues that the suppression order, together with the Australian government's recent introduction of legislation to criminalise reporting on certain types of intelligence operations, is part of “an increasing trend in Australia of suppressing press freedoms for the sake of politics".

"The Australian government is not just gagging the press, it is blindfolding the Australian public," Assange said.

Since June 2012 Assange has resided at Ecuador's London embassy, where he has been granted political asylum by Ecuador on the grounds that he is at risk of extradition to the US to face conspiracy or other charges arising from the leaking of hundreds of thousands of secret US military and diplomatic documents by US soldier Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning.

British police are on guard outside the embassy 24 hours a day, waiting to arrest Assange so he can be extradited to Sweden to face questioning about sexual assault and rape allegations that were first raised in August 2010.  The cost of the police presence has now exceeded £6.9 million ($12.5 million). 
 
The British and Swedish governments have declined to provide assurances that Assange would not be extradited to the US.

WikiLeaks has continued to publish leaked documents including, over the past year, secret draft treaty texts from the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trade in Services Agreement negotiations.  

Head of La Trobe Universtiy's Law School, Patrick Keyzer, did not doubt the Supreme Court had legitimate reasons for issuing the order: "There's always a risk with an order as wide as this that some may view it as suppressing freedom to engage in political discussion. Of course that is it's purpose in a sense, but it's important for the courts to strike a balance between protection of confidential information and preservation of freedom of speech."

Mr Keyzer, an expert on social media and the law, questioned the order's effectiveness, given Wikileaks' reputation for publishing confidential documents online: "Supression orders...were born and developed in the age of the print media. It's very difficult to harness digital media and damn near impossible to harness social media."

He said: "Given that Wikileaks is an organisation that is notoriously and specifically dedicated to the reversal of suppression it only make sense that this is the sort of exercise that will advance interest in the information and cause people to conduct searches for the material."

Mr Keyzer said the disclosures may not be protected by the freedom to discuss political and governmental affairs, depending on how they were sourced.

- With Jane Lee

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