War on Free Press Escalates Worldwide After Assange’s Espionage Act Indictment, As More Journalists Raided By Police for Reporting Classified Materials

Following the arrest and seventeen-count Espionage Act indictment of persecuted  WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange — for which he is facing a possible 170 years in prison — a number of alarming police actions against journalists for publishing classified material and performing other essential journalistic activity has started to elicit heightened fears even among complicit establishment journalists that they could be next.

In the span of only 2 days, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) has conducted two raids on journalists and seized documents in purportedly unrelated incidents.

In a third, also ostensibly unrelated incident, another Australian reporter disclosed yesterday that the Department of Home Affairs has initiated an investigation of his reporting on a story about asylum seeker boats which could lead to an AFP criminal case, saying he’s being pressured to disclose his source.

The AFP has formally denied that there was any connection between the two raids, and it is in fact difficult to imagine how the two could be connected apart from their sharing a common theme of exposing malfeasance that the government wanted kept secret. The Conversation chief political correspondent Michelle Grattan has called it “an extraordinary coincidence,” however, tweeting: “AFP needs to explain ASAP the timing so long after the stories. It can’t be that inefficient! Must be some explanation – which makes the ‘unconnected’ claim even more odd.”

If it is true that they are unconnected, then what changed? What in the world could have changed to spark this sudden escalation of the Australian government’s assault on the free press?

Australia’s ABC Headquarters in Sydney Searched By AFP

Three AFP officers and three police technicians entered the Sydney headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) with a search warrant that named two ABC investigative journalists and the network’s news director. The police demanded to look through the journalists’ emails, ABC reported.

David Anderson, the ABC managing director, said it was “highly unusual for the national broadcaster to be raided in this way”.

“This is a serious development and raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press and proper public scrutiny of national security and Defence matters,” he said. “The ABC stands by its journalists, will protect its sources and continue to report without fear or favour on national security and intelligence issues when there is a clear public interest.”

John Lyons, ABC’s executive editor and head of investigative journalism, tweeted:

Lyons said the federal police were going through dozens of emails with the authority to delete or even change their content. Protagonist Winston Smith’s job in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 was to rewrite news archives.

“I recall writing ages ago about Australian legislation giving the Australian govt power to ‘add, alter or delete’ targeted material,” Australian psychologist and social critic Lissa Johnson told Consortium News. “The msm [sic] barely batted an eyelid at the time. Now that power is being wielded against the ABC.”

Gaven Morris, ABC’s news director, declared: “Journalism is not a crime.”

“Our journalists do a really difficult job, I’m proud of what they do, they do it in the public’s interest,” he said. “I’d say to all the journalists at the ABC and all the journalists across Australia, don’t be afraid of the job you do.”

Marcus Strom, president of Australia’s journalists’ union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, called the raid  “disturbing.”

“It should chill the public as well as journalists,” he said.

”These raids are all about intimidating journalists and intimidating whistle blowers so that mistakes made by the Government, including potential crimes, by the military, remain covered up, remain secret, and don’t fall in to the public domain.”

Political Editor’s Home in Canberra Raided

On Tuesday morning in an unrelated case, Canberra police entered the home of the political editor of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Daily Telegraph. The Telegraph describes the raid in an editorial:

“Journalist Annika Smethurst opened her front door to find seven AFP officers waiting for her. All because she dared to do her job and keep the nation informed on what its government was doing.”

Ironically, the April 2018 report authored by Smethhurst that drew the ire of the government “revealed the departments of Defence and Home Affairs were considering new powers allowing Australians to be monitored for the first time,” The Daily Telegraph reported. “Her original article included images of top secret letters between Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo and Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty.”

French Journalists Arrested Covering Paris Protests 

Assange was arrested in London’s Ecuadorian embassy on April 11. On April 20, just 9 days later, French police arrested two journalists who were covering that day’s Gillets-Jaunes (Yellow Vests) protests in Paris.

One of the journalists, Alexis Kraland, said he was taken into police custody after refusing to submit to a search or turn his camera over to authorities at the Gare du Nord train station. The largest journalism union in France, Syndicat National des Journalistes (SNJ) [English trans: “National Union of Journalists”], demanded an explanation from police:

French Journalists Facing Possible Prison Time For Handling of Secret Documents

Last month, Geoffrey Livolsi and Mathias Destal, the co-founders of Paris-based investigative news organization Disclose, along with Radio France reporter Benoît Collombat, were called in for questioning at the offices of the General Directorate for Internal Security, known as the DGSI (similar  to the United States’ FBI), over stories published in April by the two news organizations.

The reports were based on a secret document authored by France’s Directorate of Military Intelligence and obtained by Disclose, and had revealed that top officials in the French government had seemingly lied to the public about the role of French weapons in the war. They demonstrated the extent of Western nations’ complicity in the devastating conflict, which has killed or injured more than 17,900 civilians and triggered a famine that has taken the lives of an estimated 85,000 children.

“They want to make an example of us because it’s the first time in France that there have been leaks like this,” Disclose co-founder Livolsi told The Intercept.

“They want to scare journalists and their sources away from revealing state secrets.”

The next stage of the case is still unclear. The worst-case outcome for the reporters would be a sentence of five years in prison and a €75,000 (around $83,900) penalty, though the DGSI could close it and let the journalists off with a warning. The case could also be handed off to a judge, who could conduct further investigations and possibly decide to take the case to a trial.

Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly pronounced in a public statement last month that Disclose had violated “all the rules and laws of our country,” :

“When you disclose classified documents, you are exposed to penalties.”

SF Police Raid Journalists’ Home

The next police attack occurred on May 10 in San Francisco, in which SF police  used sledgehammers to break down the door and raid the home of Bryan Carmody, a freelance journalist, in order to compel him while handcuffed to reveal the confidential source who leaked him a police report into the sudden death of the city’s elected public defender. Police confiscated computers, cameras, mobile phones and notes from the Carmody residence.

San Francisco Police Chief William Scott initially claimed that Carmody had “crossed a line” with his report.  After a public outcry and perpetual demands for Scott’s resignation, the police chief backtracked and issued an apology.

Fears Justified

While there is no direct connection between Assange’s arrest and indictment for possessing and disseminating classified material and these subsequent police actions, a Western taboo on arresting or prosecuting the press for its work has clearly been weakened. One must ask why Australian police acted on a broadcast produced in 2017 and an article published in April only after Assange’s arrest and prosecution.

Within hours of Assange’s Espionage Act indictment on May 23, major publications and media figures, who have harshly treated Assange, began lining up in his defense out of their own self-interested concern that the government could apply the same prosecutorial legal standards to target them for also routinely publishing classified information.

Their fears are beginning to be realized.

*Expanded from source material published by Consortium News.

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