Police raid Australian public broadcaster over leaked Afghanistan war crimes documents

Search of ABC head offices prompts complaints over assault on press freedom

Australian police raid the offices of ABC in Sydney

Australian police have raided the offices of the national broadcaster over allegations it published classified material about possible war crimes in Afghanistan.

Federal officers spent nine hours searching through documents and emails at The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) headquarters in Sydney on Wednesday, according to the news agency.

The raid was the second to target the media in two days, following searches of the home of a News Corp editor on Tuesday, and prompted complaints of an assault on press freedom.

“It is highly unusual for the national broadcaster to be raided in this way,” ABC Managing Director David Anderson said in a statement.

“This is a serious development and raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press and proper public scrutiny of national security and defence matters,” he said.

The raid on ABC relates to 2017 reports about alleged misconduct by Australian troops in Afghanistan.

ABC investigations editor, John Lyons, tweeted a photo of the search warrant which showed the targets included two ABC journalists, the organisation’s news director and a former Australian military lawyer, David William McBride.

Mr McBride was charged last year with leaking national secrets and is due in the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court on 13 June.

“This is a bad, sad and dangerous day for a country where we have for so long valued – and taken for granted - a free press,” Mr Lyons tweeted.

They said the raids on ABC and News Corp were not linked but relate to separate allegations of publishing classified material ... which is an extremely serious matter that has the potential to undermine Australia’s national security.”

News Corp said the home of one of its editors was targeted because of a 2018 report about plans for surveillance of Australians’ emails, text messages and bank records.

The company, which owns the Sunday Telegraph, said the raid was “outrageous and heavy handed” and “demonstrates a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths”.

Senator Kristina Keneally, the deputy leader of the opposition Labor party, called for an explanation of “why raids of such nature are warranted”, adding: “Media freedom is at the core of our democratic society”.

The raids sparked warnings that national security was being used to justify curbs on whistleblowing and reporting that might embarrass the government.

“There are insufficient safeguards to prevent law enforcement agencies from using these powers to expose journalists’ confidential sources,” said Emily Howie, a Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre.

“This is shocking for those who are targeted but this surveillance also has a chilling effect on people coming forward,” she added.

Peter Greste, the director of the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, who was jailed in Egypt on national security charges, said the raids were a serious issue for Australians.

“I’m not suggesting that Australia is about to become Egypt any time soon but what we are seeing seems to me to be on the same spectrum,” he said.

Home affairs minister Peter Dutton, who almost lost his seat in the general election last month, denied involvement in the police investigations and said he was only notified afterwards.

“It is entirely appropriate they conduct their investigations independently and, in fact, it is their statutory obligation,” Mr Dutton said in a statement.

He added: “Like all Australians, I believe in the freedom of the press. We have clear rules and protections for that freedom of the press and we also have clear rules and laws protecting Australia’s national security.”

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) confirmed they had not notified Mr Dutton in advance and said their actions were “independent and impartial at all times”.

Additional reporting by agencies

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