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Twenty years after the Chinese army killed untold numbers of unarmed civilians in Beijing and other cities on and around June 3-4, 1989, the Chinese government continues to victimize survivors, victims' families, and others who challenge the official version of events, Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch today releases "The Tiananmen Legacy," an assessment of the continuing impact of Tiananmen and a multimedia feature on the crackdown's 20th anniversary, which can be accessed at https://www.hrw.org/en/node/83112.
The Chinese Communist Party initially justified its actions during the bloody crackdown as a necessary response to a "counter-revolutionary incident," later revising its characterization of the event as a "political disturbance."
"The government's ongoing efforts to censor history, crush dissent, and harass survivors stands in stark contrast to the impressive economic and social developments in China in recent decades," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "The Chinese government should recognize that 20 years of denial and repression have only caused the wounds of Tiananmen to fester, not heal."
The Chinese government has always refused to provide a list of those killed, "disappeared," or imprisoned, and has failed to publish verifiable casualty figures.
The Tiananmen Mothers, a group of mothers and parents of students and civilian victims, has established a list of more than 150 people who were killed after the army opened fire on civilians. The government has also consistently quashed all public discussion of June 1989, while persecuting those who participated in the demonstrations or who publicly question the government's version of events.
Today, the detention of Liu Xiaobo represents the most visible symbol of the government's ongoing hostility to those involved in the 1989 protests and to any form of organized opposition. One of China's best-known intellectual critics, Liu spent two years in prison for his role in supporting the Tiananmen students. Liu also prevented more bloodshed by successfully negotiating with the army the evacuation of the last remaining students on Tiananmen Square in the early morning of June 4. A regular interviewee of international media and scholars on June 4, Liu spent another three years in re-education-through-labor from 1996 to 1999 for a series of public calls questioning the one-party system, and was then put under a loose form of house arrest. On December 8, 2008, Liu was arrested once more on suspicion of being one of the organizers of a bold public petition for democracy and the rule of law titled Charter '08.
The text of Charter '08 included a direct reference to the June 4 events, as an example of the "long trail of human rights disasters" caused by the Communist Party of China's monopoly on power. Despite an international outcry, Liu continues to be held without charges.
"Liu Xiaobo epitomizes how the Chinese government has responded to Tiananmen in particular and peaceful critiques in general: by stifling them," said Richardson. "At the same time, Liu is emblematic of the tireless tenacity and courage of some Chinese citizens to fight for truth, justice, and democracy in the face of adversity."
Beginning in April 1989, workers, students, and others began to gather in Beijing's Tiananmen Square and in other cities. Most were demonstrating peacefully for a pluralistic political system. When the protests had not dispersed by late May, the government declared martial law, and then authorized the army to use lethal force to clear the streets of protesters. In the process of fulfilling that order, the army shot and killed untold numbers of unarmed civilians, many of whom were not connected to the protests. In Beijing, some citizens attacked army convoys and burned vehicles as the military moved through the city. Following the civilian killings, the Chinese government implemented a national crackdown and arrested thousands of people on "counter-revolutionary" charges, and on criminal charges including arson and disrupting social order.
The Chinese government was globally condemned for its crackdown on the protesters, and several countries imposed sanctions, including the ongoing European Union arms embargo. The Chinese government has rebuffed all efforts to seek a re-examination of the events of June 1989.
In 1990, then-President Jiang Zemin dismissed international condemnation of the Tiananmen Massacre as "much ado about nothing." In January 2001, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao defended the use of deadly force against unarmed civilians in June 1989 as "...timely and resolute measures...extremely necessary for the stability and development of the country."
"The Chinese government has made it virtually impossible for people to know about this major event in their own recent history," said Richardson. "And that should raise profound concerns globally about the government's capacity for manipulating information and evading accountability."
Ongoing Persecution and Censorship
Ongoing Persecution of Those Seeking Reassessment
Tiananmen's Survivors: Exiled, Marginalized and Harassed
Human Rights Watch Recommendations
To the International Community
Ongoing Persecution of Those Seeking Reassessment
The Chinese government continues to persecute those who seek a public reassessment of the bloody crackdown. Chinese citizens who challenge the official version of what happened in June 1989 are subject to swift reprisals from security forces. These include relatives of victims who demand redress and eyewitnesses to the massacre and its aftermath whose testimonies contradict the official version of events. Even those who merely seek to honor the memory of the late Zhao Ziyang, the secretary general of the Communist Party of China in 1989 who was sacked and placed under house arrest for opposing violence against the demonstrators, find themselves subject to reprisals.
Some of those still targeted include:
Ding Zilin and the Mothers of Tiananmen: Ding is a retired philosophy professor at People's University in Beijing whose 17-year-old son, Jiang Jielian, was killed in central Beijing on June 4, 1989. Ding has since become the spokesperson and driving force behind the Mothers of Tiananmen, a loosely organized group of around 150 family members of other June 1989 victims. Security forces routinely subject Ding to detention, interrogation, and threats demanding silence from her and other Mothers of Tiananmen members ahead of "sensitive" dates, particularly June 4. "China has become like an airtight iron chamber and all the demands of the people about June 4, all the anguish, lament and moaning of the victims' relatives and the wounded have been sealed off," reads a petition by the Mothers of Tiananmen, signed by 127 people and submitted to China's parliament in March 2008.
Jiang Yanyong: Jiang is a 77-year-old army surgeon who treated some of the victims at Beijing's 301 Military Hospital in the immediate aftermath of the June 1989 military assault. Jiang first gained public prominence in 2003 for exposing the government's cover-up of the country's outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. In March 2004, Jiang wrote a letter to China's parliament, the National People's Congress, urging a reassessment of the government's position on the Tiananmen Massacre. The letter exposed the brutality of the June 1989 massacre, including the People's Liberation Army's use of "fragmentation bullets of the kind banned by international convention." Jiang subsequently told foreign media the government's response to that letter was to dispatch state security forces to abduct him from his office, hold him for seven weeks at an army guesthouse, and subject him to "study sessions." After being allowed to return home, Jiang was placed under house arrest for several months and barred from overseas travel. In March 2009, Jiang wrote a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao demanding an apology for the period he spent in detention in 2004 and the subsequent months of house arrest.
Zhang Shijun: Zhang is a40-year-old former soldier who took part in the military crackdown in Beijing on June 3-4. In March 2009, Zhang published an open letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao urging an official reassessment of the "June 4 tragedy, the event in China's recent history that causes bitter weeping and choking back tears." Zhang was detained by security forces shortly after his letter was made public, and remains under detention in an undisclosed location.
Sun Wenguang: Sun, a 75-year-old retired professor in Jinan City, Shandong province, was assaulted on April 4, 2009, by five plainclothes thugs who appear to have been working at official behest. He was en route to Jinan's Martyrs' Park to mourn Zhao Ziyang, the Chinese Communist Party secretary-general who tried to prevent the use of force by the military in June 1989. Zhao was stripped of his position following the crackdown and spent the last 15 years of life under house arrest in Beijing. The assault on Sun, which left him with three broken ribs, occurred just minutes after he had evaded some 20 uniformed police who attempted to prevent him from leaving the university campus where he lived.
Tiananmen's Survivors: Exiled, Marginalized and Harassed
The Chinese government is particularly hostile toward those individuals it has identified as part of the leadership of the 1989 Tiananmen student protests. Student leaders who served time in prison or fled China in the aftermath of the bloody crackdown of June 1989 have become unwilling exiles. Several of those former protest leaders have been turned back from China by Chinese immigration officials even when trying to visit aging family members they left behind or to attend their funerals. Student organizers who stayed in China remain subject to tight surveillance and harassment despite having served long prison terms for their participation in the protests of June 1989. Perhaps most tragically, survivors maimed or handicapped in the June 1989 military assault in Beijing and other major cities continue to face pressure from state security forces to lie or stay silent about the causes of their injuries.
Tiananmen survivors who continue to suffer due to the role they played in the student protests in 1989 include:
Wang Dan: A former Beijing University student leader who topped Beijing's Tiananmen most-wanted list until his arrest in 1989, Wang received a four-year prison sentence in 1991, was released in 1993 when China was bidding to host the Olympics, was re-arrested in 1995 for "subversion" and was sentenced to an 11-year prison term in 1996. Wang was sent to the United States in 1998 on medical parole and has been barred from return by Chinese immigration officials who have refused to issue him a new Chinese passport. In 2008, Wang launched a campaign to urge the Chinese government to allow him and other blacklisted former Tiananmen protest leaders to return to China in line with Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which specifies that, "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country."
Han Dongfang: Han was detained in June 1989 for his role in the Tiananmen protests and for organizing China's first independent trade union since 1949, and was subsequently held for 22 months in prison without charge. In 1992, the Chinese government permitted Han to go to the US for medical treatment, but subsequently cancelled his passport and has refused his multiple efforts to return to China without disclosing the legal basis for those refusals. Han is based in Hong Kong, where he researches labor-rights abuses and publishes the China Labor Bulletin.
Ma Shaofang: In June 1989, Ma was 10th on the Chinese government's list of most-wanted dissidents and served a three-year prison term for his role as a Tiananmen student protest organizer. Two decades later, Ma, now a Shenzhen-based businessman, continues to be subject to police monitoring of his movements and activities. On October 13, 2007, Ministry of State Security officers warned Ma not to attend a writers' conference in Beijing during the 17th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. In a blog posting in which Ma recounted the encounter, the State Security officers warned that, "If you get into trouble, we will be there and it won't be good for you."
Fang Zheng: A 42-year-old former student at the Beijing Academy of Physical Science, Fang had his legs crushed on June 4 under a tank while pushing a female student protester out of the tank's path. Fang was subsequently expelled from school after refusing to publicly deny the source of his injury, but went on to become China's wheelchair discus and javelin champion in 1992 and 1993. However, Fang's Tiananmen connections prompted the Chinese government to bar him from competing in the Far East Games for the Disabled in Beijing in 1994 despite his promise not to discuss with foreign journalists the cause of his injury. Fang told a reporter from Singapore's New Paper in September 2008 that he maintained public silence and avoided travel to Beijing around the 2008 Beijing Olympics due to promises from government security forces that he would be given a job if he kept quiet and stayed away Beijing ahead of during the Games. "I will wait and see what they have to offer, since I have nothing more to lose," Fang said.
The Chinese government continues to systematically erase from the public record any mention of the events of June 1989 that do not conform to the government's assessment of the bloody crackdown as a "political disturbance."
China's online censors quickly remove any references to the 1989 crackdown, and internet search engines in China are carefully calibrated to filter out any images or references to the deaths of unarmed civilians for search requests on topics including "Tiananmen Square" and "June 4." Web searches for such terms typically yield "page could not be found" messages, and generally do not inform the user that the search has been censored.
Under dictates of China's official Propaganda Department, the domestic print media are forbidden to publish articles on the events of June 1989 inconsistent with the government's version. In 2003, then-US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton pulled her memoirs from sale in China after it was revealed that her Chinese publisher had without her approval omitted her references to the 1989 democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.
Like individuals who speak publicly about Tiananmen, media outlets that do so are also punished. In June 2007, the Sichuan province daily newspaper the Chengdu Evening News reportedly sacked three editorial staff after the paper ran a classified ad which paid tribute to the families of victims of the Tiananmen Massacre. Copies of the paper which carried the one-line ad with the words "Saluting the strong mothers of the victims of 64 [a reference to June 4]" were quickly pulled from circulation.
On March 31, 2009, Beijing Public Security Bureau officers briefly detained Jiang Qisheng, 61, deputy chairman of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre and a former Tiananmen Square student protester, due to concerns that he was writing an article to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre. "They said not a single article was allowed this year for the 20th anniversary," Jiang later told the South China Morning Post.
In 1995, former Tiananmen student protester and political activist Li Hai was sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of violating state secrets laws for compiling a list of names of those killed in June 1989. Li spent the majority of his jail term in solitary confinement.
One result of this official chokehold on information about June 1989 is a profound lack of public knowledge of one of the most important events in China in living memory. At least three foreign news organizations including a US Public Broadcasting Service program, Frontline, have conducted informal surveys over the past 10 years, asking groups of university students and Beijing residents to identify the context of the photograph - iconic outside of China - of "tank man," an unidentified Beijing citizen who on June 5, 1989, stood down a column of 17 army tanks near Tiananmen Square. Few if any have been able - or willing - to do so.
Human Rights Watch Recommendations
To the Chinese Government:
To the International Community:
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
"Forty-five million people with student loan debt will never forget when politicians, led by Republican extremists, went out of their way to push millions of working families, including their own constituents, into economic catastrophe," said one advocate.
Economic justice advocates cried foul Thursday after the U.S. Senate passed legislation that aims to block President Joe Biden's pending student debt cancellation plan and reverse already-delivered relief.
Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Jon Tester (Mont.), along with right-wing Independent Sen. Krysten Sinema (Ariz.), joined Senate Republicans in supporting H.J. Res. 45.
The Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, which House Republicans approved last week with the help of Democratic Reps. Jared Golden (Maine) and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (Wash.), passed the Senate by a margin of 52-46. Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Mark Warner (Va.) didn't vote. The White House has vowed to veto the measure.
Passage of the legislation elicited a firestorm of criticism from progressive advocates and lawmakers.
"Forty-five million people with student loan debt will never forget when politicians, led by Republican extremists, went out of their way to push millions of working families, including their own constituents, into economic catastrophe by passing this reckless CRA resolution," Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) executive director Mike Pierce said in a statement.
"The American people are watching and expect President Biden to keep his promise to veto this horrendous bill."
The Biden administration's popular move to erase up to $20,000 in student debt for millions of federal borrowers with individual incomes below $125,000 and to improve the income-driven repayment (IDR) program is currently on hold as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a pair of deeply flawed legal challenges. A decision in the case is expected sometime this month, but right-wing lawmakers are doing everything in their power to sink the president's relief initiative regardless of how the high court rules.
Last week, the SBPC and the American Federation of Teachers warned of the "ruinous impact" H.J. Res. 45 would have on millions of working-class households nationwide, with AFT president Randi Weingarten condemning it as "an immoral clawback of the absolute worst kind."
In addition to blocking the potential cancellation of up to $20,000 in student debt per eligible borrower as well as money-saving changes to the IDR program, the CRA resolution would nullify the seventh and possibly eighth extensions of the federal student loan payment freeze first enacted by President Donald Trump in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, it would retroactively undo several months of already-canceled payments and waived interest charges, immediately leaving tens of millions of people past due on their loans.
Furthermore, the CRA resolution seeks to reinstate the student debt of more than 260,000 public service workers whose loan balances have been wiped clean since September 2022. If that were to happen, a combined debt burden of nearly $20 billion, which amounts to more than $72,000 per person, would be put back on the shoulders of teachers, nurses, first responders, and others who recently finished making 10 years of qualifying payments under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program that was enacted on a bipartisan basis in 2007 and streamlined by the Biden administration in 2021.
"Despite right-wing proponents' attempts to gaslight their own colleagues and the American people on the impact of this bill, this effort would push hundreds of thousands of public service workers back into debt and require the government to charge tens of millions of borrowers for interest that has already been canceled," said Pierce. "If enacted, it will cause irreparable damage to an already severely broken student loan system and undermine Americans' trust in our government."
"Today's vote makes crystal clear exactly who stood up and fought to protect the economic livelihoods of millions of people with student loan debt—and who schemed to keep them drowning in the debt despair of our nation's student loan crisis," he added. "The American people are watching and expect President Biden to keep his promise to veto this horrendous bill and deliver on his promise of student loan debt relief once and for all."
\u201cRepublicans in the Senate + Dem Senators Manchin, Sinema and Tester just voted to kill student debt relief and *raise* student debt balances by retroactively adding interest.\n\nTester, Sinema and Manchin are all up for re-election in 2024 and will have to explain their votes.\u201d— The Debt Collective \ud83d\udfe5 (@The Debt Collective \ud83d\udfe5) 1685644460
Ahead of a Wednesday vote to bring H.J. Res. 45 to the Senate floor, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said that "Republicans in Congress have shown time and time again that they'd much rather deliver relief to giant corporations and protect tax cheats than help working Americans whose biggest sin was trying to get an education."
On Thursday, the Massachusetts lawmaker called the bill's passage "shameful," and expressed confidence that Biden "will veto" it. Congress doesn't appear to have the two-thirds majority in each chamber needed to override a veto.
\u201cSenate Republicans just voted to block @POTUS' student debt relief plan, force millions to immediately pay back paused student loans & claw back relief from public servants. It's shameful. Thankfully we have President Biden who cares about working people & will veto this.\u201d— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1685644466
Ahead of Thursday's vote, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a senior member and former chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, stressed that "this Republican bill wouldn't only rip away relief for borrowers who qualify under the president's plan."
"This CRA could impact the pause on loan payments and cause major problems for borrowers who have received relief through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness and income-driven repayment programs," Murray continued. "That means these Republican efforts could create the perfect storm for more than 260,000 public service workers who have already earned relief."
"Today's vote makes crystal clear exactly who stood up and fought to protect the economic livelihoods of millions of people with student loan debt—and who schemed to keep them drowning."
"If Republicans were to get their way and pass this bill into law," she added, "people across the country would have relief they are counting on snatched away from them, plans they have made upended, less money in their pockets, and monthly payments not just abruptly restarted—but maybe even abruptly jacked up by hundreds of dollars."
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the HELP committee, echoed that sentiment.
"Republicans' cruel attempt to stand in the way of President Biden's plans to provide relief to tens of millions of Americans suffering under the crushing weight of student loan debt is damaging to our economy and wildly out of touch with the financial realities facing working families," said Markey.
"The loan forgiveness the president is proposing would mean the difference between buying a home, starting a business, and getting an economic leg up for nearly 50 million working and middle-class Americans, particularly for borrowers of color and their families," he concluded. "If you kicked Republicans in the heart, you'd break your toe."
"If approved, this $500 million climate-wrecking handout would further threaten the air, land, and water of frontline communities in the United States and in Poland, making a mockery of Biden's purported commitment to environmental justice," said one campaigner.
Climate campaigners on Thursday said that within days, President Joe Biden's promises to end public finance for fossil fuel projects may prove empty if plans that the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation has indicated it has for an LNG project in Poland come to fruition.
The DFC, which oversees U.S. investments in development projects in lower- and middle-income countries, listed on its pending project list on May 23 a $500 million guarantee to support the Polish oil and gas company PKN Orlen to increase its liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports.
The pending transaction was listed ahead of the DFC's board meeting, which is scheduled for June 7.
Oil Change International (OCI) noted that the LNG listing was removed on May 30, but the "public information summary" remained live as of Thursday, suggesting the board could still approve the project.
The project, which would involve Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs helping the company to increase its imports, would be in direct contradiction to President Joe Biden's statement at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2021 that his administration would end public finance for fossil fuel development after 2022.
"President Biden has cited his promise to end international public funding for fossil fuels as a sign of his ongoing commitment to climate leadership, even as he boosts fossil fuels and breaks many of his core climate promises at home," said Collin Rees, U.S. program manager at OCI. "The Development Finance Corporation approving this dirty project would show once and for all these claims are nothing but empty words."
"LNG is a false solution that will intensify the climate crisis and increase the world's dependence on fossil fuels."
LNG is gas that has been cooled and liquefied after being extracted by drilling or fracking. As Common Dreamsreported in April, 116 climate action groups wrote to Biden ahead of the Group of 7 (G7) climate and energy meeting in Japan last month to warn that "the global LNG boom" must be stopped.
Campaigners say the continued expansion of LNG would harm communities that lie near fracking and drilling sites as well as LNG export terminals, while disregarding the warnings of scientists and energy experts who are unequivocal in their warnings that new fossil fuel extraction projects have no place on a pathway to keeping planetary heating under 2°C above preindustrial temperatures.
"If approved, this $500 million climate-wrecking handout would further threaten the air, land, and water of frontline communities in the United States and in Poland, making a mockery of Biden's purported commitment to environmental justice," said Rees. "A rapid buildout of 100% renewable energy is the only pathway to global energy security."
The DFC's potential approval of the project would mark the second time in less than a month that the Biden administration has agreed to finance new fossil fuel development. In May the U.S. Export-Import Bank approved nearly $100 million for the Balikpapan oil refinery in Indonesia.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel also spoke at a recent Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference about a proposal for an 807-mile gas pipeline across Alaska and an LNG export terminal that he claimed would be in the United States' economic and national security interests.
"LNG is a false solution that will intensify the climate crisis and increase the world's dependence on fossil fuels," wrote Kay Brown, Arctic policy director for Pacific Environment, at Common Dreams on Thursday. "LNG is methane compressed and chilled to make it easier to transport. Methane emissions are 80 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide, in the short term."
While Biden said at COP26 and at the G7 meeting that he is committed to ending public financing for fossil fuel projects past 2022, the White House has not released guidance outlining how that promise will be kept.
"Biden's refusal to publish public guidance upholding the international fossil fuel pledge is enabling DFC to keep funding dirty fossil fuel expansion," said Rees. "In removing this massive handout to the U.S. LNG industry from its pending project list, DFC is following Biden's lead and keeping ongoing fossil fuel support hidden from the public eye."
"Today is a day of justice. It's a day of justice for those brave men of the SAS who stood up and told the truth about who Ben Roberts-Smith is—a war criminal, a bully, and a liar," said one of the journalists sued for defamation.
An Australian federal judge on Thursday ruled in favor of three newspapers sued for defamation by the country's most decorated living soldier, who the court found committed war crimes in Afghanistan, including the murder of civilians and unarmed prisoners.
Following harrowing testimony from fellow soldiers, Afghan civilians, and others, Justice Anthony Besanko of the Federal Court of Australia ruled that Fairfax Media newspapers The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Canberra Times had "established the substantial truth" that former Special Air Service Regiment [SASR] Cpl. Ben Roberts-Smith is a war criminal who murdered four unarmed prisoners in Afghanistan.
Roberts-Smith—whose multimillion-dollar defense was bankrolled by billionaire Australian media mogul Kerry Stokes—is a recipient of the Victoria Cross for Australia, the nation's highest military honor, as well as other awards including the Medal for Gallantry and Commendation for Distinguished Service. He fought in the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Today is a day of justice. It's a day of justice for those brave men of the SAS who stood up and told the truth about who Ben Roberts-Smith is: a war criminal, a bully, and a liar," Sydney Morning Herald and The Age journalist Nick McKenzie—a defendant in the suit—said following the ruling. "Today is a day of some small justice for the Afghan victims of Ben Roberts-Smith."
\u201cAustralia's most decorated living veteran was not defamed when accused of committing war crimes in Afghanistan, a judge has ruled \u2014 calling the allegations he killed unarmed prisoners 'substantially true.'\u201d— DW News (@DW News) 1685634121
Besanko found that in 2012 Roberts-Smith marched a handcuffed civilian prisoner named Ali Jan to a cliff in the southern village of Darwan and kicked him off the edge. Jan survived but was severely injured; Roberts-Smith ordered a subordinate soldier to execute the man.
"Ali Jan was a father, Ali Jan was a husband. He has children who no longer have a father. He was a wife who no longer has a husband," McKenzie said.
While Roberts-Smith argued Jan was a suspected Taliban scout, Besanko wrote that the soldier "murdered an unarmed and defenseless Afghan civilian," that he "broke the moral and legal rules of military engagement and is therefore a criminal," and that he "disgraced his country Australia and the Australian army by his conduct as a member of the SASR in Afghanistan."
In 2009, Roberts-Smith is alleged to have pressured a newly deployed soldier to execute an elderly Afghan man found hiding in a tunnel in order to "blood the rookie," according to the court. Roberts-Smith machine-gunned the man's younger disabled companion to death and then took his prosthetic leg back to Australia, where he encouraged fellow soldiers to drink beer from it, an act the court called "callous and inhumane."
\u201cCW: Afghanistan War Crimes\n\nAustralian soldier Ben Roberts-Smith kicked a handcuffed Afghan man off a cliff and then ordered him shot; shot a teenage prisoner point-blank in the head; and gunned down a disabled man, whose prosthetic leg SAS soldiers later used to drink beer.\u201d— Rebecca J. Kavanagh (@Rebecca J. Kavanagh) 1685599535
Besanko also found that Roberts-Smith bullied a fellow soldier, while finding that the papers did not prove an allegation that he punched a woman with whom he was having an affair in the face after a 2018 argument in Canberra.
University of Sydney professor David Rolph, a defamation law expert, told the Morning Herald that the court's judgment "is a comprehensive victory for the media outlets" and "a vindication of the journalism in question."
"Defamation losses have a chilling effect for the media, particularly for serious investigative journalism," he added. "This decision should give media outlets some confidence that they can undertake public-interest journalism and prevail."
Sen. David Shoebridge (Green-New South Wales) called Besanko's ruling "an important win for fearless journalism in the public interest."
"It's a tragic fact that private media companies, not any part of the federal government, have taken on the public task of telling the truth about Australia's war record in Afghanistan," Shoebridge told the Morning Herald. "The official silence must now end."
\u201c"@benmckelvey said Australia needs to launch a royal commission \u2014 akin to a U.S. congressional inquiry \u2014 to understand what went wrong.\n\nThe defamation trial, he said, was \u201cjust a little peek through the crack in the door.\u201d"\u201d— White Rose Society (Australia) (@White Rose Society (Australia)) 1685600983
In 2017, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation obtained leaked documents—known as the Afghan Files—detailing SASR war crimes such as the murder of unarmed civilians including children. A subsequent parliamentary probe confirmed the commission of war crimes by Australian troops in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.
On Wednesday, Reutersreported Australian defense chief Gen. Angus Campbell was warned by the United States—which has a long history of war crimes in Afghanistan and other countries invaded or attacked during the open-ended War on Terror—that allegations of SAS atrocities could trigger the Leahy Law, which prohibits military assistance to countries that violate human rights with impunity.
Troops from other coalition forces—including Afghans, British, Germans, Polish, and Canadians—have committed or been complicit in atrocities during the Afghan war, as have Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Islamic State fighters.