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Australia rejects demand to end police probe of reporters

July 11, 2019
FILE - In this June 27, 2019, photo, whistleblower supporters demonstrate outside the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court in Canberra, Australia, where former army lawyer David William McBride appeared charged with leaking secret documents to Australian Broadcasting Corp. reporters alleging misconduct in Afghanistan. Australian Broadcasting Corp. Managing Director David Anderson says he had written to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton calling for police to drop their investigation of two ABC reporters. (AP Photo/Rod McGuirk, File)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian government minister on Friday rejected a national broadcaster’s demand that police drop an investigation of two journalists who reported classified information.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, who is responsible for the Australian Federal Police, said he would not intervene in the investigation of Australian Broadcasting Corp. investigative journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark.

“Nobody is above the law and the police have a job to do under the law,” Dutton told Nine Network television.

“It’s up to the police to investigate, to do it independently and make a decision whether or not they prosecute,” he added.

But ABC Managing Director David Anderson revealed on Thursday that he had written to Dutton calling for police to drop their investigation of the reporters that led to a raid on the state-funded broadcaster’s Sydney headquarters in early June.

The ABC had asked that “any action against the pair cease. Failing that, that the ABC be briefed on when and how the AFP action will be resolved,” Anderson said.

The police raid sought documents relating to the Australian Special Air Service Regiment’s involvement in Afghanistan.

Oakes and Clark reported in 2017 that Australian troops had killed unarmed men and children in Afghanistan in potential war crimes.

A day earlier, police raided the Canberra home of New Corp. Australia’s political editor Annika Smethurst hunting for unrelated leaked government documents that formed the basis of an article she wrote more than a year ago.

The article, dismissed by Dutton at the time as “nonsense,” said Defense Department and Home Affairs Department bosses had canvassed giving a security agency new legal powers to spy on Australians.

ABC and News Corp. executives last week expressed frustration that a month after the extraordinary raids, “the fate of our journalists remains unclear.”

They had joined with other media organizations to demand legal reforms that would exempt journalists from national security laws passed since 2012 that “would put them in jail for doing their jobs.”

Attorney-General Christian Porter, who would need to authorize any prosecution of reporters involved, said last month “there is absolutely no suggestion that any journalist is the subject of the present investigations.”

In London at a conference on press freedom this week, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney mentioned the Australian police raids in the context of threats to press freedom that “exist even in countries that otherwise have a strong tradition of free speech.”

Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who represented Australia at the conference, said her government had made the right decision last week by asking a parliamentary committee to hold an inquiry into the impact of Australian law enforcement and intelligence powers on press freedom in response to public outrage over the raids.

But critics argue that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security — chaired by an SAS veteran of the Afghanistan war and government lawmaker Andrew Hastie — is not equipped to find the correct balance.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said on Friday “no one here in the government is standing up for media freedom and it’s an embarrassment to our country.”

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