Response from the Minister for Foreign Affairs

6 November 2012

Dear Ms Tranter

Thank you for your letter of 11 October 2012 to the Minister for Foreign Affairs regarding freedom of expression in the field of journalism.  I have been asked to reply to you on the Minister’s behalf.

Australia is committed to promoting and protecting freedom of expression and opinion.  The Australian Government supports the work of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Mr Frank La Rue, and agrees with his observation that the right to freedom of expression and the free flow of information is a foundation for every free and democratic society.  These rights, along with the freedom of association, are guaranteed in international human rights laws.

The Australian Government also recognises the important role that civil society and non-government organisations play in the promotion and protection of human rights.  We agree with the Special Rapporteur’s views that states should ensure that human rights defenders and journalists are not subjected to threats of acts of violence, harassment or reprisals for addressing human rights issues.

Australia also believes that the freedom of expression and opinion applies to activity and communications on the internet in the same way as it applies to activity offline.  We believe that the Internet is essential to the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression, and is also a critical means to other rights, such as the right to education, the right to freedom of association and assembly, and the right to full participation in social, cultural and political life.

With regards to Australia’s consular assistance to Mr Assange, we note that the request for Mr Assange to be extradited to Sweden relates to allegations of sexual offences, and is distinct to the investigation into the leaking of diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks.  The Australian Government is continuing to offer Mr Assange consular support as we would for any Australian.  This includes working to ensure he receives legal due process and full protection of his human rights.  The Government has sought and received assurances from Sweden in this regard. Although we have no advice that the US Government intends to take legal action against Mr Assange, the Government has made clear to senior US officials the importance we attach to our consular role in Mr Assange’s case.

Thank you for bringing your concerns to the attention of the Department.

Yours sincerely

Mr Michael Bliss

Assistant Secretary

International Organisations Branch

International Legal Division

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


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