A customs officer at Melbourne airport has said the passport of the Australian founder of Wikileaks will be cancelled “soon”.
Julian Assange, formerly from Melbourne, now stays in several countries while running the high-profile Wikileaks website. He usually avoids publicity, but became famous in April when his site released a classified video of US forces laughing after killing 12 people in Iraq, including two staff from the news agency Reuters.
The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, showed clearly the unprovoked killing of Iraqis and reporters. Two children were also seriously wounded by US shelling in the attack.
Reuters had been trying to obtain the video through freedom of information laws in the US.
Wikileaks has also released NATO’s military strategy for the war in Afghanistan, operating manuals from the US prison in Guantanamo Bay and the Australian government’s secret blacklist of internet sites.
The release of the internet blacklist has undermined the government’s argument that the list was necessary to prevent crime and child pornography. Entries on the proposed blacklist included YouTube clips, sites on euthanasia, sites promoting illegal behaviour such as graffiti, adult pornography classified as fetish (such as urination) and a website belonging to a dentist (by mistake).
The May 17 Sydney Morning Herald reported that Assange said his passport was temporarily taken from him at Melbourne airport because it looked worn-out. Half an hour later, he was approached by an Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer who searched one of his bags and questioned him about a computer hacking offence in 1991.
He arrived home to a letter from communications minister Senator Stephen Conroy saying the disclosure of the government’s proposed blacklist had been referred to the AFP.
Assange is aware he is targeted by some of the governments he has embarrassed. He told SBS’s Dateline on May 16: “We’re sensible. I mean, we understand some of the forces against us, some of the legal forces and some of the intelligence forces so we take sensible precautions.”
Ongoing criminal enquiries prevent him from going to some countries. Some of these, such as Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, are for alleged violation of bank secrecy laws
The threat to Assange is not an empty one; passports can be cancelled on national security grounds without criminal charges. Passport restrictions were applied to former Guantanamo detainees Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks. Hicks pleaded guilty to terrorism charges under a plea deal he couldn’t refuse, but Habib has never been charged with a terrorism offence.
The wikileaks website is at wikileaks.org.