Sydney: The Australian Police have denied using tactics to intimidate the press with recent police raids against journalists for leaking confidential documents, which led to much criticism from various quarters.
“I don’t believe that this was intimidation. I don’t believe that’s what we were attempting to do,” said Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin in an interview on Monday night on public broadcaster ABC, one of the media outlets that were raided, reported Efe news.
In early June, the police raided the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst after she reported on the Australian government’s alleged plans to give more powers to intelligence agencies to spy on citizens.
The next day, it raided the ABC offices in Sydney over a leak of documents linked to alleged crimes committed by the elite Australian forces deployed in Afghanistan – which included the killing of children – described in the so-called “Afghan Files” that were revealed by ABC in 2017.
ABC reported this week that the police asked Qantas Airlines for the travel data of Dan Oakes, a reporter who worked on the Afghan Files alongside his colleague Sam Clark. The police sought to register the fingerprints of both journalists.
Colvin, who confirmed that the investigations of the three journalists have been temporarily suspended due to the lawsuits filed by News Corp and ABC, said he believed in press freedom but defended the police’s actions, invoking the need for law enforcement.
The raids were widely criticized, including by ABC Chairman Ita Buttrose – who said they were designed to intimidate journalists – international media outlets such as the BBC and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.
Meanwhile, an Australian parliamentary committee has launched an inquiry to analyze the impact of law enforcement intimidation tactics on press freedom in the country.
Since 2014, Australia has enacted a series of laws that criminalize the disclosure of information linked to state interests, establish new espionage crimes and allow access to citizens’ metadata, among other privacy issues.