Thursday, 23 May 2013

ASIO Harassment

Originally published by Green Left Weekly

On Tuesday the 16th of April, I received a knock on the door from two members of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, better known as ASIO.

The two told me they would like to have a conversation. When I asked what they wanted to speak about, they told me they were doing their job - protecting national security – and had a few questions about my involvement in activism in Sydney.

Apparently the latest threat to national security is “political violence” in the activist community. As a Palestine solidarity activist involved in organising the Sydney rally to commemorate Nakba (the catastrophe, when the state of Israel was created and Palestinians dispossessed) the agents wanted to speak to me about any concerns I might have, or for me to identify any individuals who I was worried might be responsible for acts of political violence.

I replied that the only fears of violence that I had from my involvement in Palestine solidarity activism were from the far right groups and individuals who often organise counter mobilisations – or simply send threatening and intimidatory emails, messages and phone calls in an attempt to stop or derail our protests and other events.

I was also questioned by the employees about the recent rally against police violence at Mardi Gras – which I didn’t attend – and the picket lines at the University of Sydney, where I study, organised by the National Tertiary Education Union. Once again, my answer was that the only violence I have seen in my time as an activist has been initiated by those seeking to silence our right to protest. 
In the case of Sydney University, this comes from members of the “Public Order and Riot” Squad of the NSW Police force, who have been sentin to break up the picket and other protests to defend education and student rights. At the latest picket, they were responsible for breaking one student's leg and another's ribs.

Other people in Sydney and Melbourne involved in campaign groups have also been approached by ASIO and asked not to speak about these visits.

In a context of the “war on terror” overseas — which has involved Australian troops involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past decade — there is a war on civil liberties at home.

ASIO’s mandate is broad and without scrutiny. The organisation is responsible for providing security assessment for refugees seeking asylum in Australia, with no public oversight. Tamil asylum seeker Ranjini and her two sons are locked up in Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre because ASIO decided she is a “security risk”.
Security organisations have had their powers expanded and budgets increased by Labor and Coalition governments, and consequently have increased their monitoring of Australians.

As $900 million is being slashed from our universities through an “efficiency dividend”, the new ASIO headquarter building in Canberra is facing yet another costly delay in opening. After being estimated to cost $460 million when construction began under the Howard government, the full price tag is now being estimated at over$631 million dollars – over 2/3 of the university cuts.

Construction has had no parliamentary oversight, and there was no public consultation.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (the ASIO Act) even makes it illegal to publish the identity of any officer, agent or employee of the organisation. 

Last year, Green Left Weekly reported on activists involved in pro-Palestine and pro-Tamil solidarity campaigns in Adelaide who had also been visited by South Australian Police working in “security and intelligence”.

These visits are an attempt to intimidate people into ending their involvement in legitimate political organisations. Organising and attending demonstrations is not illegal and people involved in these activities should not be monitored by ASIO.

There is no law that prevents people from speaking publicly about a visit from ASIO. Shining a light on these practices is important to show that we will not be intimidated into exercising our democratic right to protest.

If the powers that be were serious about national security, they might abolish this spy agency - and withdraw our troops from the costly and unjustifiable occupation of Afghanistan - instead of harassing activists who are only exercising their democratic right to protest.

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