The headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), a public broadcaster, was raided on June 5 by the police in connection with a series of reports, the ‘Afghan Files’. These reports detailed war crimes committed by the country’s forces in Afghanistan. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) entered the ABC Ultimo Centre, the channel’s head office in Sydney, with a warrant that gave them wide ranging powers and reportedly seized over 50 documents.
The police also raided the houses of some journalists. The raid came a day after the AFP conducted a similar operation at the home of the editor of the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corporation, leading to charges of attacking press freedom.
The Afghan Files were based on leaked classified documents from the defense ministry and were aired two years ago. According to John Lyons, the executive editor of ABC, who was live-tweeting the whole raid, the warrant “allows the AFP to “add, copy, delete or alter” material in the ABC’s computers.” The AFP went through office emails, confidential files, handwritten notes, and troves of digital documents.
The Afghan Files was published after whistleblower David McBride released over a hundred classified documents detailing cover-ups of the killing of civilians, mutilation of captured or surrendered militants and the chaotic coordination among divisions and within the ranks of the Australian forces in Afghanistan.
The raids are linked to the case against McBride, who was charged and arrested in September for the leaks and is currently facing a trial that could entail a long jail time. McBride recently hinted at the government amping up attempts to jail him for life. Apart from McBride, two ABC journalists, Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, were recently charged for leaking the said papers. Oakes and Clark, along with Gaven Morris, the director of news at ABC, were the ones named in the current raid as well.
In response to the criticism of the raids, the head of the AFP denied the allegations of intimidation of the press and media, and resorted to the justification of national security.
Apart from the ABC office, the police had also raided a journalist earlier this week over a report on the government’s plans to expand surveillance on Australian citizens, while another journalist is being investigated for a report on the sinking of a refugee boat. All of this has happened within a week of the conservative government’s reelection, indicating an further shrinking of the right to dissent.