Rising body count of Australians in Syria and Iraq

 

At least 58 and up to 66 Australians are believed to have been killed in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, according to new Federal government figures.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection included the figures in evidence tendered in a case before the Fair Work Commission this week, in which the DIBP sought to end protected industrial action at Australian airports on public safety grounds.

Most of the evidence from the Australian Border Force’s assistant commissioner strategic border command, Clive Murray, is covered by confidentiality orders and cannot be published.

However, one statement by Murray – which is not confidential – said the recent industrial action at airports posed particular problems because it was being staged as 30-minute rolling stoppages nationally, which could be held at any time over a fortnight.

Murray, who was previously managed the AFP’s international network on serious and organised crime, said the national terrorist threat for Australia set by ASIO remained unchanged at “PROBABLE” over the last two years.

He summarised the current threat and response to terrorism in Australia as:

*48 people charged as a result of 19 counter-terrorism operations since September 2014 when the national terrorism threat level was raised to the current level

*15 convicted terrorist offenders in jail, with 37 before the courts on terrorism-related charges

*four attacks and ten major counter-terrorism disruption operations since September 2014

*around 110 Australians currently fighting or engaged with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq

* around 200 Australians have travelled to Syria/Iraq since 2012, with more than half of them still active in the conflict zone

* at least 58 and potentially up to 66 Australians believed to have been killed in Syria/Iraq

* about 40 people have returned to Australia after travelling to Syria/Iraq and joined groups involved in the conflict

* some 200 people in Australia being investigated for providing support to participants in the Syria/Iraq conflict, including for “funding and facilitation” or seeking to travel

* around 185 Australian passports have been cancelled or refused in relation to the Syria/Iraq conflict

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Some of the figures given by the ABF’s Murray seem to tally with figures given by the Director-General of ASIO, Duncan Lewis at Senate estimates hearings in May this year.

For example, the ASIO chief quoted an “unchanged figure” of about 110 Australian citizens who were “actively engaged in hostilities or directly supporting hostilities in Iraq and Syria, fighting with ISIL.”

Lewis also said about 190 further Australians were involved in “direct support” with just over 400 “high-priority investigations going on”.

“There are 50 Australians that we can confirm have been killed in Syria and Iraq. That figure may be as high as perhaps 59, but I just am not in a position to speak further on that difference. But it is certainly 50 confirmed.”

Lewis added said that 177 passports had been cancelled while 33 had been suspended, which also seems to tally with the information given by Mr Murray.

However, the evidence given in the Fair Work proceedings by the ABF’s Murray refers to “at least” 58 fatalities in Syria/Iraq and potentially up to 66 deaths, which is higher than the figure quoted by the ASIO chief.

Murray said his confidential evidence contained more details on known or likely threats, but unknown threats were a “much more significant concern”.

“Without knowing what threats may manifest, in which ways, and at which times, ongoing vigilance taken through the application of ongoing effective borders control is critical.”

It should be noted that the CSPU argued that airport personnel in key security roles were exempted from the industrial action to protect public safety, but the Department had failed to manage the industrial action.

The Fair Work Commission terminated the bargaining covering DIBP employees, which puts an end to legally-protected industrial action in pursuit of a new workplace agreement after almost three years of fruitless bargaining.

However, the decision allows the CPSU to push for the Commission to arbitrate a new agreement, an outcome that was opposed by the government which is trying to cap public annual public sector pay rises at 2%.

FOOTNOTE: It seems I was the only journalist who attended the Fair Work proceedings, which is a common occurrence in tribunals and courts nowadays.

So, I thought it worthwhile putting the information on the public record, even though I have some scepticism about the claims made by Australian security agencies when it comes to domestic terrorism levels.

The statistics quoted by the ABF’s Clive Murray are not stated in the decision by Fair Work Commissioner Nick Wilson, which is available here: https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2016fwc7184.htm

Finally, I don’t know whether the figures on travel to Syria and Iraq include the former Coalition MP and junior minister, Wyatt Roy 🙂

Worries over press freedom in Timor-Leste

 

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The Timor-Leste government faces a stern test of its attitude towards press freedom when two journalists appear in court on Friday on charges of “slanderous denunctiation”.

The charges relate to a story published late last year in the Timor Post about the Prime Minister Rui Aria de Araújo and his former role as a finance ministry advisor in a state telecommunications tender.

The story contained an error, which was acknowledged and corrected as required under Timor-Leste’s press law.

But journalist Raimundos Oki, and a former editor of the Timor Post, Laurenco Martins, face up to three years’ jail if convicted.

A range of media freedom groups, including the International Federation of Journalists, have called for the charges to be dropped. They argue the charges amount to criminal defamation and will set a worrying precedent.

During a visit to Dili in May, I asked the Prime Minister about the charges during an interview that mostly dealt with the maritime boundary dispute with Australia and the Timorese economy.

In reply, de Araújo made one semi-valid point and one claim that is simply implausible.

The PM insisted he could not direct the State prosecutor to drop the proceedings – as suggested by international press organisations – because this would amount to the executive interfering in decisions taken by an independent legal office.

But de Araújo he also argued that he had sent details of the publication to the prosecutor as an ordinary Timorese citizen, not as the Prime Minister.

This last claim is nonsensical because, well, he is the Prime Minister.

Besides, his overall stance is contradictory. On one hand, de Araújo is arguing it would be improper to direct the prosecutor to drop the case, but on the other he reckons that it’s perfectly fine for the PM to lob a dossier complaining  about a media report into the prosecutor’s in-tray.

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The broader point is that the entire Timorese leadership – from Xanana Gusmao , Jose Ramos Horta, President Taur Matan Ruak and PM de Araújo – have to decide if they want their country to have a free and independent press.

If the answer is yes, they should address the Media Law that came into force in 2014.

The charges against the two journalists are under the Penal Code, but both pose threats to press freedom.

Here is a piece about press freedom in Timor-Leste for the Walkley magazine on August:

http://www.walkleys.com/in-timor-leste-hurt-feelings-could-land-journalists-in-jail/

Here’s a link to a petition calling for the charges to be dropped:

 https://www.change.org/p/timor-leste-prime-minister-drop-defamation-charges-against-timor-journalists

Here’s a link to an article on regional press freedom by ABC journalist and Walkley trustee Michael Janda:

 http://www.walkleys.com/six-places-where-journalists-are-worse-off-than-in-australia-and-one-bright-spot/?utm_content=buffer119fb&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer