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Australian govt blindfolds citizens with ‘unprecedented’ media gag - WikiLeaks

Published time: July 30, 2014 07:50
Edited time: July 30, 2014 12:30
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (Reuters / Stefan Wermuth)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (Reuters / Stefan Wermuth)

WikiLeaks has accused the Australian government of blindfolding the public with the worst suppression order in “living memory.” The media gag bans Australian news outlets from reporting on a multinational corruption case for reasons of national security.

The whistleblowing organization published the details of the “unprecedented” gag order issued by the Australian government on Wednesday. The super injunction passed by the Supreme Court of the state of Victoria prohibits Australian media organizations from publishing material on a multi-million-dollar graft case involving high-ranking officials from Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).

“The gag order effectively blacks out the largest high-level corruption case in Australia and the region,” said a statement published on WikiLeaks’ website.

The case pertains to RBA subsidiaries Securency and Note Printing who bribed the officials to secure lucrative contracts to supply bank notes to their governments. The gag order was issued after the secret indictment of seven senior executives from the RBA subsidiaries on June 19, writes WikiLeaks.

The Australian government justifies the order as being in the interests of national security and prevention of “damage to Australia’s international relations.” However, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange argues such an act of “unprecedented censorship” is unjustifiable.

“With this order, the worst in living memory, the Australian government is not just gagging the Australian press, it is blindfolding the Australian public,” said Assange in a statement published on the WikiLeaks website. He called on Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to explain “why she is threatening every Australian with imprisonment in an attempt to cover up an embarrassing corruption scandal involving the Australian government.”

“Corruption investigations and secret gag orders for 'national security' reasons are strange bedfellows. It is ironic that it took [Prime Minister] Tony Abbott to bring the worst of 'Asian Values' to Australia,” said Assange.

Lawyers have suggested that media outlets may not be the only targets of the gag order, arguing that social media users who post links to the WikiLeaks statement could be subject to prosecution. Media lawyer Peter Bartlett told the Age newspaper that using the hashtag WikiLeaks did not violate the order, but any mention of the contents of the statement is prohibited.

According to WikiLeaks, the last blanket suppression order was issued in 1995 to stop Australian news outlet Fairfax Media from publishing information about a US-Australian spying operation on the Chinese Embassy in Canberra.

WikiLeaks founder Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for over two years after being granted political asylum. UK police have resolved to arrest the whistleblower if he sets foot outside the embassy building and comply with an extradition order to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual assault.

Assange believes his extradition will lead to his eventual transfer into American custody where he will be tried for publishing thousands of classified, US government files on the WikiLeaks website.