Human rights groups and free speech defenders around the world are speaking out on Thursday after the Australian government moved aggressively to block Chelsea Manning—the U.S. Army whistleblower who was imprisoned by her own government after leaking hundreds of thousands of military and diplomatic documents, including evidence of war crimes—from entering the country as part of a global speaking tour.
"By refusing her entry, the Australian government would send a chilling message that freedom of speech is not valued by our government."
—Claire Mallinson, Amnesty InternationalThe company organizing Manning's tour, Think Inc., according to NBC News,
said it had received a notice of intention from the government to deny Manning entry on Wednesday. The group is calling on her supporters to lobby new Immigration Minister David Coleman to allow her into Australia. While she can appeal, past precedent suggests the decision has already been made.
Think Inc. said it had given the government more than 10 letters of support from individuals and organizations who support Manning's entry to Australia.
Hugh de Kretser, the executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre, told Guardian Australia: "As a democracy, we should be encouraging not banning public contributions from people like Chelsea Manning."
He added that Manning is "generating vital debate around issues like secret mass surveillance of citizens by governments. The visa should be granted."
The Australian Privacy Foundation, which advocates for privacy rights and free speech, tweeted:
— AUPrivacyFoundation (@apf_oz) August 29, 2018
In its statement, Amnesty International accused the newly-formed right-wing government of trying to silence Manning. "By refusing her entry, the Australian government would send a chilling message that freedom of speech is not valued by our government," Claire Mallinson, Amnesty International's national director in Australia, said in a statement.
According to the Guardian:
Manning, an occasional Guardian columnist, was due to arrive in Australia on Thursday. She is scheduled to give a speech at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday night as part of the Antidote festival, as well as addresses in Brisbane and Melbourne.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Home Affairs, which oversees immigration, said it would not comment on individual cases, but that all non-citizens entering Australia must meet the character requirements of the Migration Act.
“A person can fail the character test for a number of reasons, including but not limited to where a non-citizen has a substantial criminal record or where their conduct represents a risk to the Australian community."
But her defenders say it is proposterous to consider Manning a "risk" to Australia's security.
Australian attorney Greg Barns, who has represented Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, said in his statement that people with criminal records have been allowed into Australia in the past and that "no one would seriously suggest" Manning was a risk.
Tim Singleton Norton, chair of the Australia-based Digital Rights Watch, called the move "nothing more than a political stunt designed to appease the current US administration, and an unnecessary imposition on the movements of a world-renowned civil rights activist."
Calling the ban "a gross overreach of the powers afforded to the Minister for Immigration," Norton said that "Ms. Manning does not pose a threat to the Australian public, and to block her from entering the country is to take away Australians' right to hear her story."
The Australian government, Norton added, frequently talks "about freedom of speech, but this rarely seems to be extended to defend those who profess opinions that are not aligned with their own."
Australia. A place where politicians would refuse a visa to one of the world’s most courageous whistleblowers on “character grounds”.
— Tom Sulston (@tomsulston) August 29, 2018