Lawyers and civil libertarians have slammed Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty after he called for a media black-out on coverage of cases under the federal government's "anti-terrorism" laws until all legal avenues have been exhausted.
In a speech on January 29 to the right-wing Sydney Institute, Keelty claimed that media coverage of recent cases had undermined the judicial system and the anti-terror laws. By February 1, even PM Kevin Rudd has rejected Keelty's proposals.
Implementation of Keelty's proposal would have prevented public scrutiny of the case of Dr Mohamed Haneef, for example, which collapsed last year as a result of failures by the AFP and the office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. Keelty claimed that bad publicity given to the AFP recently could lead the public to "mistakenly" believe that the AFP had failed the community. Keelty also complained that police records of interviews were now being "leaked" to the media to "add weight to public campaigns" around terrorism cases.
"This is nothing but blatant hypocrisy on the part of Keelty, since there is clear evidence that it was the AFP which leaked information about the Haneef affair to the media in an attempt to frame up Dr Haneef", Paul Benedek told Green Left Weekly. Benedek was an organiser of the campaign in Brisbane to defend Haneef against wrongful charges of being linked to the attempted bombings in Glasgow, Scotland, last year.
Stephen Keim, QC, the barrister who defended Dr Haneef, and who released a transcript of the police interview with Haneef to the media after continual distorted stories were circulated, described Keelty's speech as "disappointing", according to the February 1 Sydney Morning Herald. "[W]hen it comes to the substantive elements of the AFP's handling of Dr Haneef's case he doesn't answer or acknowledge any of the substantive questions", Keim added. The Queensland Legal Services Commission has cleared Keim of charges of acting unprofessionally in releasing the transcript.
Terry O'Gorman, secretary of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, roundly criticised Keelty's speech, accusing the AFP chief of advocating "censorship".
Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland responded on January 31, explaining to journalists that: "The government has no plans to introduce a media blackout on the reporting of terrorism cases. The media plays a vital role in helping to ensure governments remain accountable and always serve the public interest."
The Keelty remarks appear timed to try to pre-empt the judicial inquiry into the Haneef case which the federal government is preparing to commence within a few weeks. The inquiry seems likely to put further pressure on Keelty and the AFP, who have been widely criticised for their actions in the Haneef case, and other controversial so-called anti-terrorism trials.