ASIO should stop harassing activists

Monday, May 6, 2013

I received a knock on the door on April 16 from two members of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, better known as ASIO.

The two told me they would like to have a conversation. When I asked what they wanted to speak about, they told me they were doing their job — protecting “national security” — and had a few questions about my involvement in political campaigns in Sydney.

Apparently the latest threat to “national security” is “political violence” in the activist community.

As a Palestine solidarity activist involved in organising the Sydney rally to commemorate Nakba (the catastrophe, when the state of Israel was created and Palestinians dispossessed), the agents wanted to speak to me about any concerns I might have, or for me to identify any individuals who I was worried might be responsible for acts of political violence.

I replied that the only fears of violence that I had from my involvement in Palestine solidarity activism were from the far-right groups and individuals who often organise counter-mobilisations or send threatening and intimidating emails, messages and phone calls in an attempt to stop or derail our protests and other events.

I was also questioned about the recent rally against police violence at the Sydney gay and lesbian Mardi Gras parade — which I didn’t attend — and the picket lines at the University of Sydney, where I study, organised by the National Tertiary Education Union. Once again, my answer was that the only violence I have seen in my time as an activist has been initiated by those seeking to silence our right to protest.

In the case of Sydney University, this comes from the NSW police force, who were sent in to break up the picket and other protests to defend education and student rights.

Other people involved in campaign groups have also been approached by ASIO and asked not to speak about these visits.

In a context of the “war on terror” overseas — which has involved Australian troops involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past decade — there is a war on civil liberties at home.

Security organisations have had their powers expanded and budgets increased by Labor and Coalition governments, and consequently have increased their monitoring of Australians.

Last year, Green Left Weekly reported on activists involved in pro-Palestine and pro-Tamil solidarity campaigns in Adelaide who had also been visited by South Australian Police working in “security and intelligence”.

These visits are an attempt to intimidate people into ending their involvement in legitimate political organisations. Organising and attending demonstrations is not illegal and people involved in these activities should not be monitored by ASIO.

There is no law that prevents people from speaking publicly about a visit from ASIO. Shining a light on these practices is important to show that we will not be intimidated into exercising our democratic right to protest.

As it is a politicised police force, ASIO should be abolished. Australian troops should also be withdrawn from the costly and unjustifiable occupation of Afghanistan.