Reporters Without Borders said it was shocked that the editor of a student magazine became the subject of an investigation under federal anti-terror law after being denounced on an “anti-terrorist” hotline.
“This was an example of unfortunate use of Australia’s illiberal laws,” the press freedom organisation said, calling for law reform to avoid any future mistakes that could threaten fundamental freedoms.
Jess Moore, 24, who runs the student monthly Tertangala (Smoke Signal) in the coastal town of Wollongong in south-eastern Australia was suspected of attending a meeting in support of Islamist movement Hamas on 18 October 2006. In Australia, Hamas and the Lebanese-based Hizbollah are seen as terrorist organisations and all support for them is punishable under anti-terror laws.
In fact, Jess Moore had gone with around 20 other students to attend a conference as a student activist and journalist, but the meeting had nothing to do with Hamas. It focused on the Australian government’s homophobic political stance.
Misled by the message left on the hotline, police in Wollongong alerted the authorities. A police inspector turned up at the campus before realising the mistake. Police in Wollongong however told Jess Moore, who is also an anti-war activist, that the investigation against her was continuing.
The Sydney Morning Herald condemned the incident and Moore said she was stunned by the investigation, which she had only been told about on 5 December, two months after the meeting. "I spoke to several lawyers and they told me to take this case seriously,” she told a journalist on ABC Online.
“This student who had absolutely nothing to do with terrorist groups was the subject of a secret police investigation,” said Reporters Without Borders. “The government would do better to support student newspapers rather than to act against them”.
Parliament on 6 December 2005, adopted the Australian Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 which provided for penalties of up to five years in prison for anyone making contact with a person suspected of terrorism. Journalists investigating terrorist activity could be arrested by police, particularly if they published the names of suspects. Under the new law, reporters have no right to refuse to reveal their sources in terror cases. Security forces can also conduct searches of media premises in pursuit of evidence in such cases.