SYDNEY – The nonprofit Human Right Watch warned on Thursday that the existing national security provisions in Australia were a threat to free speech, alluding to police raids on journalists that took place in June.
“Australia needs stronger safeguards to protect disclosures made in the public interest,” HRW Australia director Elaine Pearson said in a statement.
The activist reminded the executive branch of its duty to protect democratic freedoms, especially those concerning speech and expression.
Last week, HRW presented an analysis before a parliamentary committee on the impact of laws on press freedom following police raids on public broadcaster ABC and the home of journalist Annika Smethurst for allegedly leaking documents that compromised the government.
The nonprofit believes that the legal provisions to protect national security and the powers that the authorities have to enforce the law not only affect the media, but also human rights activists, lawyers, informants and all witnesses or those who speak out against the government.
In particular, HRW expressed its concern about a provision criminalizing the disclosure of information linked to secret operations and the lack of protection for informants and journalists who disclose information considered of national interest.
“Authoritarian governments around the world use broadly-drafted national security laws to silence human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, and critics of the government. Australia should not join them by having overly broad laws on the books that are open to misuse,” Pearson said.
Since 2014, Australia has gradually tightened the laws in force criminalizing the dissemination of information related to state interests, while also laying down new espionage-related crimes and allowing access to the metadata of citizens, among other things.