Former US intelligence analyst turned whistle-blower and activist Chelsea Manning will speak via satellite from Auckland to audiences in Melbourne and Brisbane, following the Australian government's refusal to issue her with a visa on character grounds.
Manning, a US soldier stationed in Iraq in 2010, blew the whistle on atrocities committed by the US army. For this she became an international figure of enormous importance, admired by millions as a hero for having taken that brave step — at great personal cost.
The video files she leaked to WikiLeaks revealed horrifying footage, including that of an apache helicopter gun strike in which US soldiers gunned down Reuters journalist Namir Noor-Eldeen, his driver Saeed Chmagh and other civilians who try to rescue them.
Manning was arrested for treason and sentenced to 35 year's jail. Her sentence was later commuted to seven years by then US President Barack Obama.
Manning is scheduled to speak on data privacy, artificial intelligence and transgender rights in Melbourne on September 7 and Brisbane on September 11.
The tour is organised by Think Inc, in conjunction with a range of supporting organisations, including Green Left Weekly.
Think Inc's director, Suzi Jamil told GLW, “We are disappointed that Chelsea can no longer appear in Melbourne or Brisbane in person, nevertheless we are pleased that Melbourne and Brisbane audiences will still have the opportunity to hear her directly.
"I’m looking forward to her conversation with respected Australian journalist Patrick Abboud, discussing data privacy and surveillance, imprisonment, the suppression of information and ideas by power-structures, and transgender rights.
"As a high-profile public figure, her opinions, ideas and expertise on these matters is timely, and of genuine interest to our community."
A number of protest letters were sent to the minister’s office, including from respected author and filmmaker John Pilger.
Pilger wrote: “Just when it doesn't seem possible that Australia's reputation can sink further into a mire of injustice and human rights atrocity, the government of my country proposes to deny Chelsea Manning a visa to enter Australia in order to prevent her taking part in a speaking tour.
“Australians are to be protected from the free speech of this courageous person. As a Trustee of the Courage Foundation, which represents Chelsea's right to basic freedom, I call on your government to relieve what ought to be, at the very least, our acute national embarrassment at this unwarranted and authoritarian action.
“Australians have every right to hear what Chelsea has to say, and she has every right to say it. If such freedom no longer exists in Australia, tell us now; otherwise welcome this courageous truth-teller.
The Australian government may have hoped to sabotage Manning’s tour by denying her a visa. However, the ban has only raised Manning's profile and has shined a light on the actions of a government desperate to censor the truth about international war crimes.
[For details of Manning’s talks in Melbourne and Brisbane visit ThinkInc.]