Australian court rules search warrant on journalist invalid

April 14, 2020 - 8:16 pm

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s highest court ruled on Wednesday that a search warrant at the center of a national storm over press freedom was invalid.

News Corp. journalist Annika Smethurst went to the High Court to overturn the warrant that was executed on her Canberra home in June last year and triggered a national campaign for greater press freedom.

The seven judges unanimously agreed that the warrant was invalid, partly because it failed to state the offense suspected with sufficient precision.

But the majority of judges rejected her application for the material seized to be destroyed, meaning police could still use it as evidence against her.

The raid followed an article written by Smethurst and published in April 2018 that was based on classified government documents. The article reported that Defense Department and Home Affairs Department bosses had canvassed giving a security agency new legal powers to spy on Australians.

A day after the Canberra raid, police executed warrants on the Sydney headquarters of Australian Broadcasting Corp. in search of unrelated leaked government documents.

ABC journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark — who reported in 2017 that Australian troops had killed unarmed men and children in Afghanistan in a potential war crime — as well as Smethurst could be charged over their reporting.

Australian media organizations banded together in protest against the raids, which they argued were a crackdown on press freedom.

The organizations argue that press freedoms have been eroded by more than 70 counterterrorism and security laws passed by Parliament since the al-Qaida attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

They want assurance that journalists will not risk prison sentences for doing their jobs.

The government responded by asking a parliamentary committee to hold an inquiry into the impact of Australian law enforcement and intelligence powers on press freedom.

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