Timorese protest Australia's prosecution of Witness K

Activists from the Movement Against Occupation of The Timor Sea (MKOTT) mobilising public support for Witness K and Bernard Collaery. Photo by MKOTT.

Activists from the Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea (MKOTT) are mobilising public support in Timor-Leste for former Australian spy "Witness K" and his lawyer Bernard Collaery, whose trial began in Canberra on September 12.

The two are being prosecuted by the federal government for allegedly disclosing information about Australian agents installing listening devices in Timor-Leste government offices, during critical negotiations over resources in the Timor Sea.

According to the Timor Sea Justice Forum’s Sister Susan Connelly, the offices of the East Timorese prime minister and his Cabinet were refurbished with the help of AusAid, an Australian government development agency, between 2004 and 2006.

The walls of the office were later found to have had listening devices placed in them by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), enabling Australia to spy on Timorese negotiators.

One of those involved in the operation, Witness K, complained to his superiors upon finding that one of the oil companies involved, Woodside, had employed the services of retired political figures connected to the negotiations.

These included former foreign minister Alexander Downer and Ashton Calvert, a secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Witness K engaged the services of Bernard Collaery, a Canberra lawyer with extensive experience in Timorese matters, on this issue.

Timor-Leste took Australia to the International Criminal Court on charges of espionage.

In 2013, as the case was about to be heard in The Hague, ASIO raided Collaery's Canberra offices and took his papers. Witness K's passport was also seized, preventing his evidence being heard.

In 2017, negotiations between Australia and Timor-Leste to establish a maritime border under international law recommenced. A new border treaty was signed in March.

Then in May, charges were laid against Witness K and Collaery under the Criminal Code and the Intelligence Services Act 2001. The charges claim that between 2008 and 2014 they made known information about ASIS operations.

If convicted, they could be jailed for two years.

Connelly said the prosecution is an attempt to make a crime out of the action of reporting a crime, "exonerates economic espionage" and blurs economic interest into “national interest”.

MKOTT activists have prepared a 10-metre long banner that they plan to cover in signatures of Timorese people opposing the prosecution of Witness K and Collaery and deliver it to the Australian Embassy in Dili on September 17.

Protests calling for the dropping of the charges against the two were also held in Sydney and Canberra on September 12.