Timorese to march on Australian embassy in Dili over prosecution of lawyer of spy who blew the whistle on bugging

July 20 media conference by activists from the Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea (MKOTT) in Dili, Timor Leste.

Activists from the Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea (MKOTT) in Timor-Leste are planning to march on the Australian embassy in the capital Dili on Wednesday July 25. The march will gather at 9am near the Grupo Media Nasional offices on Jardin Cross Road before marching to the embassy.

This march coincides with demonstrations to be held in several cities around Australia to protest the Turnbull Liberal-National governments prosecution of Bernard Collaery the lawyer representing Witness K, the Australian spy who blew the whistle on the bugging of the Timorese government delegation by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) during critical negotiations over the maritime boundary between these two countries.

The initial hearing in this case been postponed to September 12, but the protests in Dili, Melbourne, Sydney and Darwin are going ahead.

Tomas Frietas, an activist in MKOTT, told Green Left Weekly:

"People here are very angry with the Australian government over the prosecution of Witness K and his lawyer. This is very undemocratic. Timorese people used to believe that the Australian government had a much more advanced justice system. But now we think maybe the Australian government needs to learn from Timor-Leste."

Frietas said that the last time there was a march on the Australian embassy was in April 2016 when Australia was refusing to accept the median line as its sea boundary with Timor-Leste.

The Australian government had been playing hard ball and working in league with multinational petroleum companies operating in the Timor Sea.

In 2004, ASIS placed listening devices in the walls of the Timor-Leste's prime minister's office during a refurbishment program conducted by AusAid. This enabled Australian officials to listen in to the plans of the Timorese negotiators over the treaty about the Greater Sunrise offshore gas field in the Timor Sea.

A member of ASIS who was present during the operation (Witness K) complained on his return to Australia. He had discovered that Alexander Downer, Australia's foreign minister at the time of the spying, and Ashton Calvert, the former head of Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, were both lobbying for Woodside Petroleum, which has a major interest in the exploitation of the Timor Sea resources.

Witness K was permitted by his superiors to engage a lawyer, Bernard Collaery. After much deliberation Collaery and Witness K concluded that Australian intelligence services were used to spy for Australian financial gain. 

In 2013, the matter was exposed in the news. The Timorese, furious at the spying, withdrew from the treaty talks and took Australia to the International Court of Justice. 

Collaery's offices were then raided by Australian Intelligence Service Organisation (ASIO) and his papers were confiscated. Witness K's passport was taken, preventing that person from testifying at the International Court. 

To Australia's international embarrassment, the International Court ordered Australia to return Collaery's papers. Timor-Leste then took Australia through a compulsory conciliation process under United Nations rules, which despite Australia's initial objections, resulted in a new Timor Sea Treaty in 2018.

During these negotiations, Timor-Leste dropped its spying case against Australia as an act of good-will and to further the resolution of the Treaty.

However, following the finalisation of the new treaty in June 2018, Collaery and Witness K were charged with committing offences under the Crimes Act and the Intelligence Services Act 2001, that is, making known to the government of Timor-Leste and to the media the fact of the Australian espionage against Timor Leste. 

Prominent human rights lawyer Julian Burnside supported a call by the Australian activist network GetUp! to support the July 25 protests by Tweeting

"The prosecution of Witness K and his lawyer is disgraceful. The lawyer's role was to help K prepare a case showing Australia broke the law. Now he's charged with conspiracy.

"Christian Porter should not have approved the charges: he is a disgrace to the office of Attorney-General."

Details of rallies in Australia on Wednesday July 25: Melbourne: 11am, outside the Cwlth Offices, Treasury Pl (off Spring St). Sydney: 12noon-2pm, Cwlth Parliamentary offices, Philip St (near Bent St). Darwin: 12-2pm, Outside NT House, cnr of Mitchell and Bennett St.  You can sign a petition against the prosecution of Witness K here.