What’s the rush? If you believe Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter, unless two pieces of security legislation are in place in the remaining two weeks of parliament before the winter recess, the country will be in peril.
His argument is nonsense. Labor should also be taken to task for being party to a hasty process that appears on the face of it to be expedient. Labor’s persistent concern is to avoid being wedged on security issues.
Under the proposed legislation, bodies such as Amnesty International that have been critical of Australian government policies may be vulnerable.
Porter’s argument appears to be that unless the legislation passes in the concluding two weeks of the midyear session of parliament, those byelections will be conducted in a perilous atmosphere. He said:
There’s an unprecedented level of foreign intelligence activity in Australia and that means more foreign agents and more foreign power using more tradecraft and more technologies to engage in espionage and foreign interference and the attempted foreign influence of our democratic processes.
And that increase in volume is detectable even in the period of time that this piece of legislation has been under consideration by the committee.
No reasonable person would argue against the need for beefed-up legislation to deal with challenges to democratic processes such as those witnessed during the recent US election.
Fairfax Media’s publication overnight of leaked documents dealing with alleged war crimes by members of the Special Air Service might have fallen foul of such provisions, and may still do so.
Media coverage of the draft amendments to the Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill has been relatively favourable. However, this might have less to do with the merits of the legislation than with relief the bill is less threatening to legitimate inquiry than an earlier draft.
Most of these recommendations are cosmetic, except those relating to journalistic inquiry. They include the need for security certifications to be validated before proceedings could be initiated for an espionage or secrecy offence, and a review of the legislation by the National Security Legislation Monitor after three years.
This refers to legislation that sought to proscribe involvement in Australian political processes not just by foreign governments and their agents, but by entities like GetUp, which has drawn part of its funding from foreign sources.
The scope of this proposed legislation – which is yet to be agreed by the JCOIS – has now been limited to foreign governments, foreign-related entities, foreign political organisation and foreign government-directed individuals.
Foreign companies would be excluded from this provision unless it could be demonstrated they were closely connected to a foreign government or political organisation.
In such cases, government-dominated companies, even those associated with friendly nations, would be required to register under the proposed law.
In efforts to guard against interference by individuals or companies who might be connected with a foreign government, the Attorney-General’s Department would be empowered to issue “transparency notices” to identify such individuals or companies.
An appeals process against these findings would be available through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Porter said:
It’s vital that our national security legislation and framework reflects the modern challenges that we face … that framework remains dangerously incomplete while these two remaining and critical bills remain unlegislated.
As interested parties digest the provisions of the proposed amendments, it’s likely more objections will be raised, such as those by Claire O’Rourke, one of Amnesty’s Australian representatives.
O’Rourke told The Guardian that under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill charities like Amnesty that hold the Australian government to account on its human rights record could face criminal charges. She said:
This is clear government overreach and a cynical exercise by both sides of politics to shield themselves from the scrutiny of Australian society, including charities.
The upshot of all this? Quite simply, more time is needed to review proposed amendments.
Attorney-General Christian Porter has put forward compromise amendments to the government’s proposed register of foreign agents that will limit its reach.
The changes are designed to meet criticisms from charities, universities and others, and to get a quick agreement with Labor on the legislation.
The bill for the register is still being considered by the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, which on Thursday released a bipartisan report agreeing on 60 amendments to the legislation to counter the threat of foreign interference.
Porter wants to get both bills passed by the end of this month. “Most critically this would allow for Australia’s new legal framework designed to address espionage, interference and foreign influence in Australia’s democratic processes to be passed before the conduct of five key Australian byelections and be fully operational before the next scheduled general election,” he said.
There have been widespread concerns that the scope of the transparency scheme is too wide, and notably the breadth of the definitions in it, including that of “foreign principal”.
Arguments have been put by lawyers, the media, the arts, charities, not-for-profit organisations and the academic sector that these definitions will adversely affect them.
Porter said that the government had now given the committee a range of amendments “that address the most substantive stakeholder issues”.
The bill currently provides that people be required to register if undertaking certain activities on behalf of a foreign government, public enterprise, political organisation, business or individual.
The change would limit the “foreign principals” to foreign governments, foreign government-related entities, foreign political organisations and foreign government-related individuals.
“This ensures that only organisations or individuals ultimately working at the direction of a foreign government or political party are required to register,” Porter said.
The amendment would thus exclude “the vast majority of private international companies”, except where “they are closely related to a foreign government or political organisation”.
To stop some companies or individuals with opaque links to a foreign government falling through the cracks, the secretary of the Attorney-General’s department would have a power to issue notices stating a person or organisation was considered a foreign government-related entity or individual.
“This would allow the government to investigate and declare where it considers companies or individuals are hiding their connections to foreign governments,” Porter said.
Another change would mean broadcasters, carriage service providers and publishers would not have to register “where they are undertaking their ordinary business”.
The definition of “activity for the purpose of political or government influence” would also be changed “so that a substantial purpose of the activity has to be political influence, rather than just ‘a’ purpose of it”.
Porter said that responding to the university sector and charities, the definition of “undertaking activity on behalf of a foreign principal” would be amended “so a person isn’t deemed to be undertaking an activity merely because they are supervised by, receive funding from or collaborate with a foreign principal”.
The government couldn’t have had a more appropriate week for the release of the report from the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security which has examined its legislation to counter foreign interference.
Bipartisan agreement in the report, tabled Thursday, on the 60 recommendations, covering minor and more substantive amendments, has paved the way for the bill – that has infuriated Chinese authorities – to clear parliament within weeks.
A couple of current instances have highlighted how China engages in unsubtle pressure.
Qantas confirmed it would bow to China over how the carrier refers to Taiwan in its advertising and on its website. This followed a demand to three dozen airlines that they make clear that Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are part of China.
The government was understanding of Qantas’s position, accepting it had little choice.
On a very different front, former foreign minister Bob Carr, an outspoken friend of China, who heads the Australia China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, was unable to get visas for journalists (including from Fairfax and News Corp) to go on one of the sponsored visits to China he hosts. Carr says “the assumption is that [this] is part of the freeze China is applying to bilateral visits” – a freeze that has hit ministers.
Then there is the much-publicised controversy about Facebook sharing user-data with, among many companies, several Chinese ones including Huawei, a telecommunications-equipment giant that the Australian government has not permitted to tender for National Broadband Network contracts.
We’re well past the optimistic days when we believed it could be all upside in our relationship with China, which has over the years delivered an economic bonanza for Australia.
Trade Minister Steve Ciobo tries to shrug off problems as minor irritants, but presumably that’s just his job. Others in the government have become more forthright.
It’s notable that of recent prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, both very knowledgable about China, have been the most openly tough-minded towards it. Before becoming PM, each was regarded as China-friendly.
Of the various causes of current tensions in the relationship, the legislation against foreign interference is on the top shelf (together with Australia’s stand on the South China Sea).
The purpose of the legislation, unveiled late last year, is to “comprehensively reform key offences dealing with threats to national security, particularly those posed by foreign principals”.
Among its provisions, it “introduces new foreign interference offences targeting covert, deceptive or threatening actions by foreign actors who intend to influence Australia’s democratic or government processes or to harm Australia”.
At its core, what this legislation does is to criminalise foreign interference that is one step below espionage. ASIO has always been able to investigate such interference, but it hasn’t actually been a criminal offence.
While the government goes out of its way to say the legislation is not aimed at any individual country, everyone knows China is in its sights. As is Russia, after the experience in the United States and elsewhere.
Duncan Lewis, head of ASIO, emphasised the foreign threat in evidence to Senate estimates last month, describing the current scale of foreign intelligence activity against Australian interests as “unprecedented”.
“Foreign actors covertly attempt to influence and shape the views of members of the Australian public, the Australian media, officials in the Australian government and members of the diaspora communities here in Australia,” he told the hearing.
“Foreign states maintain an enduring interest in a range of strategically important commercial, political, economic, defence, security, foreign policy and diaspora issues,” he said.
Critics of the legislation seized on sloppy drafting as well raising substantive issues. The Law Council of Australia warned that “many of the offence provisions are broadly drafted to capture a range of benign conduct that may not necessarily amount to harm or prejudice Australia’s interests”.
Some with concerns were within officialdom. The Commonwealth Ombudsman pointed out that “the current drafting of the amendments appears to produce several unintended consequences for my office,” and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security had some worries.
The media feared being caught by too wide a net.
Where possible, Opposition leader Bill Shorten tries to stick like glue to the government on national security issues, for reasons of politics as well as substance. Given this, and the usual bipartisan functioning of the intelligence and security committee, it is not surprising that agreement has been reached on a refined version of the bill.
Many of the changes, as Attorney-General Christian Porter noted, are to definitions and drafting – which doesn’t make them unimportant.
These include clarifying that “prejudice to national security” has to involve an element of harm, not just embarrassment. There’ll be clarification of “espionage”, “sabotage”, “political violence” and “foreign interference”.
Changes will reduce the maximum penalties for the new secrecy offences, and require the attorney-general’s consent for a prosecution under them.
An amendment will ensure the staff of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security are properly protected.
The changes will give greater protection to the media, expanding the public interest defence for journalists, and making it clear that editors, legal advisers and administrative staff will all be covered by the journalism defence.
Before a journalist can be prosecuted over reporting classified documents, the head of the relevant agency will have to certify that they were properly classified, and the attorney-general must consent to the legal action.
The government, accepting some criticisms of the legislation, itself put forward certain amendments.
The committee – which is still examining an accompanying bill to set up a register of those working on behalf of foreign governments and other interests – said that after three years there should be a review of the operation of key parts of the foreign influence legislation.
The agreed changes haven’t satisfied critics such as the Law Council and Amnesty International. But the political deal is now in place.
Meanwhile Porter explicitly cast an eye to coming elections. “Activity which is designed to interfere or influence our democratic processes is at its most acute when democratic processes are taking place and that means five by-elections in late July and then the full general election”.
The government, saying it wants the legislation passed before the parliament rises at the end of June for the winter recess, is preparing for more angry reaction from Beijing.
Academics in Australia might reflect on the fact that scholarly books critical of the Chinese Communist Party are now shunned by publishers. Scholars who work on China know that continued access to the country requires them to play by Beijing’s rules, which for most means self-censorship – the dirty secret of China studies in Australia.
Despite refusing to publish my book, Silent Invasion, I am privileged in my access to free speech in a way that most Chinese-Australians are not.
In February, Alex Joske, my researcher for the book and of Chinese heritage himself, wrote in the New York Times that as Beijing’s interference in Australian society intensifies:
… the voices of the Chinese-Australians alarmed by Beijing’s encroachment are being drowned out by an aggressive Chinese government campaign to silence critics here.
Once quite vocal, pro-democracy activists, supporters of Tibetan autonomy, and Falun Gong practitioners are barely heard nowadays. In my book, I describe how this marginalisation has been carried out.
Examples are legion. The New York Times recently reported that Taiwanese workers at restaurants in Sydney have been sacked because, when asked whether they believe Taiwan belongs to China, they say “no”.
It only takes a few examples like this to send a signal to all Taiwanese in Australia to keep their views to themselves if they go against Beijing. This kind of violation of democratic principles — not to mention employment law — has for years been ignored by the mainstream.
Soon after Allen & Unwin pulled publication of my book, a retired businessman phoned. For years he has been taking in Chinese students as lodgers. Recently, he was walking through the CBD with one of those students when they came upon a Falun Gong practitioner collecting signatures on a petition. When he said “let’s go over”, she begged him not to. She kept walking while he signed the petition.
Two weeks later, the student’s parents back in China had the Ministry of State Security knocking on their door. They were warned to keep an eye on their daughter, who was creating trouble in Australia.
Think about that. Chinese authorities in Australia are monitoring Falun Gong practitioners on the streets of Sydney and Melbourne, photographing anyone who interacts with them. They can identify any ethnically Chinese person and put them on a watchlist.
In the course of researching my book, I spoke with pastors at Chinese churches in Australia who believe their congregations and community groups have Communist Party agents spying on behalf on the consulate. Some Chinese-Australians cannot even go to their places of worship without Beijing’s vast security apparatus watching and reporting on them.
Few religious groups of modern times have experienced more coercion and violence than practitioners of the peaceful spiritual practice Falun Gong. Working through the consulates, the sinister 610 Office has harassed, threatened and bullied Falun Gong practitioners in Australia and frightened off sympathetic politicians.
Last year, Feng Chongyi, an associate professor at the University of Technology Sydney, was forcibly detained in China for a week while doing research on human rights lawyers. China does not like what he is uncovering and wanted to send an unambiguous message that he should change what he works on in Australia.
It’s important to understand that the effect of Beijing’s suppression of critical voices in the Chinese-Australian community is not confined to pro-democracy and Tibetan autonomy activists. The dominant narrative in the community is now one that supports the Communist Party view of the world.
Leading Sinologist John Fitzgerald has shown how the once-diverse Chinese-language media became overwhelmingly pro-Beijing. Chinese-language media in Australia is subject to Beijing’s censorship regime. Chinese-Australians who speak about human rights violations or complain about Beijing’s interference in Australian politics are vilified.
A young Chinese-Australian who wants to enter politics knows that any criticism he or she may make of, for example, party influence operations in Australia will result in bad press and pressure from “community leaders”. If they were to persist, family members in China may receive intimidating visits from state security. It’s much easier to stay out politics.
This is a denial of their democratic rights. It means that Chinese-Australians critical of the Communist Party have no representation in parliament. Who will speak up for them if their family is threatened, or if their business in Australia is sent broke by a boycott organised by the consulate?
Enabling the silencing
Instead of giving these critics of the Communist Party a voice, some of our political leaders have collaborated in their silencing. They shun them, even condemning them when they protest outside the Sydney consulate, while mixing with and responding to “community leaders” who typically head United Front organisations guided by the party through its network of agencies that operate in Australia.
In February, Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen expressed outrage in parliament because Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had threatened violence against any Cambodian-Australians who staged a protest during his visit to Australia. Bowen declared he would defend the right of Cambodian-Australians to protest and would not allow peaceful protesters to be harassed and bullied.
Good for him. But where is Bowen when Chinese-Australians are threatened and intimidated by China’s state security apparatus in Australia? Where is he when supporters of Tibetan autonomy are drowned out and intimidated on the streets of Sydney?
Bowen is a prominent member of the New South Wales Right faction of the Labor Party and accordingly has been the recipient of largesse from wealthy Chinese businessmen close to Beijing. He has been flown to China at the expense of the Communist Party and an organisation run by Huang Xiangmo, the businessman ASIO warned the major political parties to avoid taking money from.
Bowen has been a patron of the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China, the peak United Front body closely associated with Huang Xiangmo.
As my book appeared in the bookshops, the big beasts of the NSW Right came out to monster me because I have said they are too close to Communist Party front groups and agents of influence. Bob Carr, Paul Keating and Graham Richardson attempted to trash my reputation and make me out as a Sinophobe and closet racist.
They are embarrassed when anyone draws attention to the evidence of the deep penetration of the Chinese state into their part of the Labor Party. They should know that the more they try to shut down critics, the more we will ask what they have to hide.
Like others, I have puzzled over the astonishing level of naivety in this country about what China is doing here.
It doesn’t seem enough to speak, as some have, of being blinded by the money or referring to the natural openness of Australians. For some, it’s almost a wilful unwillingness to see, despite the powerful evidence of China’s aggressive intentions.
When writing Silent Invasion, I anticipated that its arguments would be dismissed as rooted in xenophobia and that I am just stirring a cauldron of anti-Chinese racism. I have a pretty good record of anti-racism over the decades, but for some that counts for little.
More to the point, in the book I tried hard to reflect the experiences of those Chinese-Australians who are critical of the Chinese Communist Party and feel threatened by it in their new home.
I discussed with some of them the risk of racist groups misusing the book to reinforce their prejudices. The typical response was: “Well, what’s the alternative? Should you just say nothing?”
The judgement of these Chinese-Australians is that they may have to take some collateral damage to win the larger battle. They are much more worried about the vast apparatus of Communist Party coercion than some wave of anti-Chinese sentiment.
From the moment I began researching and writing Silent Invasion, I resolved to ensure that none of the criticisms I made of the Chinese Communist Party could be construed as anti-Chinese or anti-China.
I knew that nothing I did would deter the party from its usual conflation of the party and the nation. And true to form its spokespersons in Canberra and Beijing have stuck to the party line, attacking the book as “racist bigotry” and “anti-Chinese”.
If you just read Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane, Chinese Embassy statements, and Beijing’s trolls on social media, you’d think the danger we face in Australia is not Chinese Communist Party interference operations but the risk of inflaming anti-Chinese racism by calling out the party.
The problem lies not in Xi Jinping’s aggressive assertion of a newly risen China, but the stain on our own history. Our first goal must not be to resist growing foreign interference, but to keep the lid on fringe sentiments here.
But what of China experts in Australia? Surely they can see what is happening. Most of the serious ones can and have been trying to draw attention to it for some years.
Others, like the University of Sydney’s David Brophy, prefer to put their ideological purity on display. In a ranting “review” of Silent Invasion, he argued that when discussing the Chinese Communist Party’s interference operations in Australia, people like me and the string of China experts who take a similar view have got it all back to front.
For Brophy, when the issue of foreign interference arises, we must not “shift the blame onto China” but “confront our own failings”.
Concern about Communist Party interference in Australia, opines Brophy, actually “reflects a deep malaise in Australian society”. Really? Then Taiwan, Singapore, Canada, the US, New Zealand and several European countries, where the same debate is taking place, must be suffering from the same malaise.
In truth, when someone who is being bullied or violated is accused of just imagining it, we call it victim-blaming.
When Brophy dismisses the mountain of evidence of Communist Party interference in Australia as “imagined subversion”, he shares the assessment of his vice-chancellor, Michael Spence, who has labelled the mounting warnings by the government, based largely on ASIO reports, as “Sinophobic blatherings”.
As I suggest in Silent Invasion, Spence’s University of Sydney is among the most compromised of this country’s academic institutions.
It’s not Silent Invasion, but the reaction to it, that has highlighted something troubling in the intellectual life of the nation. The fault is not an incipient xenophobia ever-ready to burst forth in anti-Chinese racism, as if our universities inherited the culture of the gold fields.
No, the fault lies in the sacrifice of intellectual rigour to the guilt felt by politically correct academics for what happened on the goldfields. For the Chinese Communist Party, this fault is a rich seam to mine in its quest to exert its influence here.
Despite Sam Dastyari resigning this week over ongoing allegations of promoting Chinese interests, and regular denunciations of Chinese interference in Australian politics, little has been said about what China makes of it all.
On Monday, we received the definitive answer: an authoritative condemnation of Australia, signed off at the highest levels.
A brief timeline of Chinese responses shows how the matter escalated.
Last week, the Chinese Embassy in Australia issued an unusually heated statement criticising Australian media and politicians. Some politicians, it said, had made:
… irresponsible comments that hurt mutual trust, and that we fully reject.
The embassy in Canberra clearly reported their displeasure to the foreign ministry in Beijing. Foreign ministry spokesmen at the Beijing press conferences in the following days made similar statements.
The following day, Turnbull said “the Australian people stand up” to China, a phrase he said was inspired by Mao’s 1949 declaration that the Chinese people had stood up.
The matter then escalated. Following the comments being reported, and a meeting in Beijing (almost certainly the next day) to determine the official line, China launched a full rhetorical assault on December 11.
China’s official government spokesperson made a public statement that China:
… offer(s) Australia a word of advice: some of these people should stop saying things that hurt Australia’s image and Australia-China mutual trust.
Turnbull’s statement that Australian people “stand up” was the third-leading item on the national news put out by China’s state television broadcaster. Most significantly of all, the People’s Daily, China’s official newspaper of record, had a special signed editorial attacking Australia’s government and media.
Of these events, it is the People’s Daily editorial that is the most authoritative.
The People’s Daily is the official newspaper of the Communist Party that runs China. It has a number of different classes of editorial. This one is known as a “signed editorial”: it represents the “voice of China”. It must be signed off on by a member of China’s highest leadership committee, and drafted by a special group within the People’s Daily. It is the third-highest ranking editorial that can be released. The two highest-ranking editorials are only released for special occasions, roughly monthly.
Why is this editorial so important? Because it immediately signals to the entire Chinese political system, including roughly 90 million party members and 40 million public servants, that their top leaders are angry at Australia.
Based on the television broadcast and the official editorial, the issues appear to be with Australian media, the public discourse on China, and with the prime minister’s phrase that “the Australian people stand up” (which was described as “laughable”).
Next, the many ministries, departments, bureaux, businesses and Communist Party bodies of the massive Chinese state must determine how seriously they take this official displeasure. Chinese leaders rarely release specific orders with targets. Rather, they release exhortations and vague statements for which they then expect the lower level actors to provide specific solutions. So subordinate departments are to prepare and submit a response that is in line with the editorial so that the leaders may look favourably on them.
None of these measures threatens the Australian state, nor our economy. China will not launch a trade war over this. But we need to be clear: “breaching mutual trust”, as the Chinese government describes it, can be lived with as long as the benefits to Australia outweigh the costs. Based on the current official Chinese media, costs are highly probable.
The last time that Australia received an official editorial condemning its actions was in 2009, when it refused official requests by China not to issue a visa to a dissident filmmaker (at the same time as the arrest of Australian citizen and Rio Tinto employee Stern Hu in China). A pointed editorial, albeit one of lower rank than the one issued on Monday, warned about “Australia’s Choice”.
Australia’s prime minister at that time was expert sinologist Kevin Rudd, who refused to intervene personally in the situation. Rudd was not personally criticised in the editorial. And China eventually sent the head of its government over to make an unusual joint public statement. As this statement would also have needed to be signed off at the highest levels, it sent a new signal to the Chinese system that Australia was out of the dog house.
So until a new line or editorial comes out of Beijing, Australian business and government representatives in China can probably expect some rather heavy-going.
Recent events are likely to be raised in many meetings. It very likely will also retard the progress of the next stage of the Australia-China free trade agreement. Finally, there is likely to be a reduction in the number of Chinese students allowed to study in Australia – the editorial argued that these students had been “significantly wounded”.
There are some other factors that may reduce costs. This is the best time to incur the wrath of the Chinese government. Due to the delay between choosing new national Party leaders and then assigning them to their various government ministries (which occurs in March), government agencies tend to be less reactive to official media signals than usual.
The Turnbull government has announced a crackdown on foreign interference in Australian politics and national security. Proposed laws include a ban on foreign political donations, new criminal offences, and a transparency register for those acting on behalf of foreign governments or organisations.
The proposed criminal offences will significantly expand the scope of existing laws against espionage and treason. This will make it easier to prosecute spies and other foreign nationals who seek undue influence over Australian business or politics.
However, the new laws pose risks to whistleblowers and journalists. They suggest the concept of “national security” is continually expanding.
The Criminal Code currently sets out an offence of espionage that is punishable by 25 years’ imprisonment.
The main offence applies where someone communicates or makes available information that concerns Australia’s security or defence. The person must intend to prejudice Australia’s security or defence, or advantage another country’s security or defence. Under the proposed changes, this offence will attract a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Where a person recklessly endangers Australia’s security or defence, this will be punishable by the current penalty.
The new espionage offences will apply to possessing or receiving information, in addition to communicating it. They will protect a broader range of information, including unclassified material.
Other new offences, punishable by 15 years’ imprisonment, will target preparation for espionage and the theft of trade secrets.
Proposed offences for foreign interference will target conduct not ordinarily considered to be espionage or treason.
Currently, the federal offence of treason describes very rare and serious conduct, such as assassinating or capturing the Queen or prime minister.
These new offences will target covert, deceptive or undisclosed conduct that is directed, funded, supervised or undertaken on behalf of a foreign interest. The penalties will range between ten and 20 years’ imprisonment.
To constitute foreign interference, the conduct must be intended to:
serve the intelligence purposes of a foreign actor
harm Australia’s national security
influence the exercise or performance of a democratic or political right, or
The changes will make it easier to prosecute foreign nationals who intentionally interfere with Australia’s business, political or foreign policy interests.
Where such influence cannot strictly be described as impacting on security or defence, successful prosecution under the existing espionage or treason offences is very difficult.
The government’s other justifications are much weaker. The current espionage offences already extend beyond the communication of information to making, obtaining or copying sensitive records. The Crimes Act includes offences that are triggered when an Australian public official discloses official secrets or other information obtained in the course of their employment.
What are the risks?
The proposed offences will target some conduct that should clearly be a serious criminal offence, such as intentionally supporting a foreign intelligence agency.
However, the proposed laws go well beyond such clear cases to target a broad and vague range of conduct affecting Australian interests. This includes possessing unclassified information and any deceptive or undisclosed conduct that influences government processes.
Most importantly, the proposed changes pose risks to whistleblowers and Australian media organisations. These risks were compounded in 2014 by changes to national security legislation in response to the threat of foreign fighters.
A journalist could face serious penalties under the proposed espionage offences for receiving information leaked by a government official or intelligence whistleblower, before they even decide to publish that information.
It seems the information need not even be classified for the penalties to apply, provided making the information available would benefit a foreign country or organisation.
The government needs to ensure that journalists publishing sensitive information in the public interest will not face criminal prosecution for espionage or other federal criminal offences. This should be done by drafting legal protections for journalists who act in a professional capacity in the public interest.
The proposed laws should be viewed not only as a response to increasing Chinese influence in Australia, but also as symptomatic of a post-Snowden crackdown, in which all potentially embarrassing information about government is closely protected.
Similar debates about expanded espionage offences and press freedom have already taken place in the UK. These debates confirm that “national security” is no longer simply about physical threats like terrorism or traditional forms of spying.
Increasingly, the language of national security is invoked to protect a government’s broader interests – political, business and economic.
Evicted from one site and denied others, unregistered congregation resorts to open air.
LOS ANGELES, April 7 (CDN) — One of the largest unregistered Protestant churches in Beijing plans to risk arrest by worshipping in the open air this Sunday (April 10) after eviction from the restaurant where they have met for the past year.
The owner of the Old Story Club restaurant issued repeated requests for the Shouwang Church to find another worship venue, and authorities have pressured other prospective landlords to close their facilities to the 1,000-member congregation, sources said. Unwilling to subject themselves to the controls and restrictions of the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the congregation has held three services each Sunday in the restaurant for more than a year.
Church members have said they are not opposed to the government and are not politically active, but they fear authorities could find their open-air worship threatening.
“Normal” (state-sanctioned) religious assembly outdoors is legal in China, and even unregistered church activity is usually tolerated if no more than 50 people gather, especially if the people are related and can cite the gathering as a family get-together, said a source in China who requested anonymity. Although the congregation technically risks arrest as an unregistered church, the primary danger is being viewed as politically active, the source said.
“For a larger group of Christians to meet in any ‘unregistered’ location led by an ‘unregistered’ leader is illegal,” he said. “The sensitivity of meeting in a park is not being illegal, but being so highly visible. Being ‘visible’ ends up giving an impression of being a political ‘protest.’”
The congregation believes China’s Department of Religious Affairs has overstepped its jurisdiction in issuing regulations limiting unregistered church activity, according to a statement church leaders issued this week.
“Out of respect for both the Chinese Constitution [whose Article 36 stipulates freedom of worship] and Christian conscience, we cannot actively endorse and submit to the regulations which bid us to cease all Sunday worship activities outside of [the] ‘Three-Self Patriotic Movement’ – the only state-sanctioned church,” according to the statement. “Of course, we still must follow the teachings of the Bible, which is for everyone to submit to and respect the governing authorities. We are willing to submit to the regulations with passivity and all the while shoulder all the consequences which . . . continuing to worship outside of what is sanctioned by these regulations will bring us.”
The church decided to resort to open-air worship after a prospective landlord backed out of a contractual agreement to allow the congregation to meet at the Xihua Business Hotel, the church said in its statement.
“They had signed another rental contract with another property facility and announced during the March 22 service that they were to move in two weeks,” the source said. “In spite of the fact that they had signed a formal contract, the new landlord suddenly called them on March 22 and refused to let them use the facility.”
The landlord offered various excuses for reneging on the contract, according to church leaders, and that disappointment came after 15 months of trying to obtain the key to another property the church had purchased.
“The space in Daheng New Epoch Technology building, which the church had spent over 27.5 million RMB [US$4.2 million] to purchase, has failed to hand the key over to the church for the past year and three months because of government intervention,” the church said in its statement. “For the past year, our church has not had a settled meeting place.”
Beginning as a house church in 1993, the Shouwang Church has been evicted from several rented locations. It also met outside after its last displacement in 2009. The congregation does not believe its calling is to split up into smaller units.
“For the past several years the church has been given a vision from God to be ‘the city on a hill,’” the source said. “Especially since 2009, when they officially began the church building purchase, they have been trying to become a more officially established status. At this point, they feel that they have not completed the journey in obedience to God.”
The number of Protestant house church Christians is estimated at between 45 and 60 million, according to Yu Jianrong, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Rural Development Institute. Yu and others have concluded that house churches are a positive influence on society, but the government is wary of such influence.
Yu estimated another 18 to 30 million people attend government-approved churches – potentially putting the number of Christians higher than that of Communist Party members, which number around 74 million.
The government-commissioned study by Yu and associates suggested that officials should seek to integrate house churches and no longer regard them as enemies of the state. The study employed a combination of interviews, field surveys and policy reviews to gather information on house churches in several provinces from October 2007 to November 2008.
Yu’s team found that most house or “family” churches fit into one of three broad categories: traditional house churches, open house churches or urban emerging churches. Traditional house churches were generally smaller, family-based churches, meeting in relative secrecy. Though not a Christian himself, Yu attended some of these meetings and noted that the focus was not on democracy or human rights but rather on spiritual life and community.
The “open” house churches were less secretive and had more members, sometimes advertising their services and holding public gatherings, he found. Urban emerging churches functioned openly but independently of TSPM churches. In some provinces such as Wenzhou, these churches had constructed their own buildings and operated without interference from local officials.
While some house churches actively seek registration with authorities to avoid arrests and harassment, they would like the option of registering outside the government-approved TSPM structure, as they disagree with TSPM beliefs and controls. Many unregistered evangelical Protestant groups refuse to register with TSPM due to theological differences, fear of adverse consequences if they reveal names and addresses of church leaders or members or fear that it will control sermon content.
With possibility of secession by Southern Sudan, church leaders in north fear more land grabs.
NAIROBI, Kenya, October 25 (CDN) — Police in Sudan evicted the staff of a Presbyterian church from its events and office site in Khartoum earlier this month, aiding a Muslim businessman’s effort to seize the property.
Christians in Sudan’s capital city told Compass that police entered the compound of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) on Oct. 4 at around 2 p.m. and ordered workers to leave, claiming that the land belonged to Muslim businessman Osman al Tayeb. When asked to show evidence of Al Tayeb’s ownership, however, officers failed to produce any documentation, the sources said.
The church had signed a contract with al Tayeb stipulating the terms under which he could attain the property – including providing legal documents such as a construction permit and then obtaining final approval from SPEC – but those terms remained unmet, church officials said.
Church leader Deng Bol said that under terms of the unfulfilled contract, the SPEC would turn the property over to al Tayeb to construct a business center on the site, with the denomination to receive a share of the returns from the commercial enterprise and regain ownership of the plot after 80 years.
“But the investor failed to produce a single document from the concerned authorities” and therefore resorted to police action to secure the property, Bol said.
SPEC leaders had yet to approve the project because of the high risk of permanently losing the property, he said.
“The SPEC feared that they were going to lose the property after 80 years if they accepted the proposed contract,” Bol said.
SPEC leaders have undertaken legal action to recover the property, he said. The disputed plot of 2,232 square meters is located in a busy part of the heart of Khartoum, where it has been used for Christian rallies and related activities.
“The plot is registered in the name of the church and should not be sold or transfered for any other activities, only for church-related programs,” a church elder who requested anonymity said.
The Rev. Philip Akway, general secretary of the SPEC, told Compass that the government might be annoyed that Christian activities have taken place there for many decades.
“Muslim groups are not happy with the church in north Sudan, therefore they try to cause tension in the church,” Akway told Compass.
The policeman leading the officers in the eviction on Oct. 4 verbally threatened to shoot anyone who interfered, Christian sources said.
“We have orders from higher authorities,” the policeman shouted at the growing throng of irate Christians.
A Christian association called Living Water had planned an exhibit at the SPEC compound on Oct. 6, but an organization leader arrived to find the place fenced off and deserted except for four policemen at the gate, sources said.
SPEC leaders said Muslims have taken over many other Christian properties through similar ploys.
“We see this as a direct plot against their churches’ estates in Sudan,” Akway said.
The Rev. John Tau, vice-moderator for SPEC, said the site where Al Tayeb plans to erect three towers was not targeted accidentally.
“The Muslim businessman seems to be targeting strategic places of the church in order to stop the church from reaching Muslims in the North Sudan,” Tau said.
The unnamed elder said church leaders believe the property grab came in anticipation of the proposed north-south division of Sudan. With less than three months until a Jan. 9 referendum on splitting the country according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, SPEC leaders have taken a number of measures to guard against what it sees as government interference in church affairs.
Many southern Sudanese Christians fear losing citizenship if south Sudan votes for secession in the forthcoming referendum.
A top Sudanese official has said people in south Sudan will no longer be citizens of the north if their region votes for independence. Information Minister Kamal Obeid told state media last month that south Sudanese will be considered citizens of another state if they choose independence, which led many northern-based southern Sudanese to begin packing.
At the same time, President Omar al-Bashir promised full protection for southern Sudanese and their properties in a recent address. His speech was reinforced by Vice President Ali Osman Taha’s address during a political conference in Juba regarding the signing of a security agreement with First Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit (also president of the semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan), but Obeid’s words have not been forgotten.
Akway of SPEC said it is difficult to know what will become of the property.
“Police continue to guard the compound, and nobody knows for sure what the coming days will bring,” Akway said. “With just less than three months left for the South to decide its fate, we are forced to see this move as a serious development against the church in Sudan.”
Ati News, a site belonging to Morteza Talaee who is the previous head of the security forces and the current member of the Tehran’s city council, in its usual anti-Christian propaganda reported that their social-life reporter had disclosed that shipments of so called, "Perverted Torah and Gospels" had entered Iran through its Western borders, reports FCNN.
Two days later, on May 31st, the same report was reiterated by the official anti-crime website of the Pasdaran Army called "Gerdaub" that a large shipment of Jewish and Christian Scriptures has entered Iran through the Western Azerbaijan province and according to security officials of that province the "occupier forces" that operate in the Western regions of Iraq were responsible for such activities.
Gerdaub, the official website of the Pasdaran Army continued its report by quoting the security official who had stated that:
Some of these books are distributed locally, but most of the books are smuggled and distributed all over the country. In just the last few months, hundreds of such "perverted Bibles" have been seized and burned in the border town of Sardasht.
The same unidentified security source adds that his intention has been to inform and enlighten people.
While the depiction of the Prophet of Islam and other historical religious leaders, whether in good or bad taste, has caused uproar and violent protests, threats of retaliation and assassinations, closure of embassies, long and mournful marches in various parts of countries of the world such as Pakistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, its quite interesting that the official website of the most powerful military wing of the Islamic Republic of Iran engages in the shameful act of reporting the burning
Of course, the security officials have not clarified the difference between these so called "perverted Bibles" and those that are commonly used by people around the world – including Iran.
These officials shamefully label the Holy Scriptures of the Christians contraband without realizing the over two billion people around the world and at least five hundred thousand people in Iran revere and consider holy. This action is no different than what the government has wrongfully accused many Christians of insulting the sacred beliefs of Islam.
On the hand the defenders of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the international organizations and human rights forums claim that religious minorities such as Jews and Christians enjoy constitutional protection and the adherents of these religions not only can elect their own representatives to the parliament, but exercise their religious rights freely and openly. But, as with many other rights and freedoms granted to the people in the constitution, this fundamental right has also been violated
and repressed by the Islamic government.
The leaders of the Islamic Republic not only use the weapon of their pre-selected parliamentary candidates to control who gets into the legislature, but severely suppresses the religious minorities by demanding the names of those attending church services, banning the entry of Farsi-speaking members into church building and any preaching in the Farsi language, rejecting any building permits for church buildings, and the publishing of Bibles and other Christian literature which amounts to nothing
but direct interference in the religious affairs of the very people it claims to be protecting.
For these reasons Christians have taken refuge at homes and congregate in home-style churches form small home-based churches. Even then, many of these Christians are harassed and often pursued by security agents and are arrested and detained. Many Christian leaders have been detained for long periods of time in undisclosed locations and often very expensive bails have to be posted to secure their freedom.
The question remains as to how long the Christian community outside of Iran can tolerate such persecutions and atrocities? Moreover, and not withstanding the fact that Iranian Christians do not have the right to publish their holy scriptures, those Christians from around the world who donate Bibles to their brothers and sisters inside Iran are insulted by labeling their donated Bibles as contraband and burned by the security agents.
It is only appropriate that the official website of the Pasdaran army that has published this report and has confirmed the validity of this news through one of its security agents be condemned by the international Christian community and the world to demand the identification of those perpetrated this shameful act.
Such insults and offensive actions in burning the Christian Bible coincides with the Islamic community’s full enjoyment, freedom, and the blessings of the Western nations that allow them to publish the Islamic Holy Book, the Quran, and to build as many mosques as its needed in various European and North America cities.
The Quran states that the Torah and the Gospels are Holy Scriptures as well. Nevertheless, the Islamic leaders claim that the Bibles used by Christians and Jews are not the authentic scriptures but have been changed by the church. Considering the fact that the Quran also states that no man can destroy the word of God, the question remains that if the currently used Bible is, as the Islamic leaders so claim, a changed and untrustworthy document where is the real Torah and the Gospels?
If the Quranic claim that the word of God can never be perverted and changed, then there must be a copy of the real Torah and the Gospels somewhere. To this question Muslims have not credible answers. There is no such difference or variance between today’s Scriptures and the original writings. Our modern Bibles go back to the very ancient copies of the scriptures that in some cases date back to only 50 years from Christ Himself. There are even copies of the Old Testament that date several hundred
years before Christ.
Definitely and for sure, one can not find any ancient writings that have been as carefully and precisely copied and preserved as the Bible has been. There are thousands of ancient manuscripts in world museums that testify to this fact. Therefore the claim that the Bible is a changed and false scripture is totally baseless and is nothing but a ploy to confuse and mislead people by the Islamic leaders.
In any event, the burning of any book, especially one that is honored and revered by a great majority of people around the world, is an unacceptable and immoral act and must be condemned by the world community.
Government granting leave to Father Ly is said to be tightening control overall.
DUBLIN, March 30 (CDN) — Vietnamese officials have in recent months tightened control over those they regard as dissidents, and the temporary release of Catholic priest Thadeus Nguyen van Ly on March 15 was a rare exception, according to Amnesty International (AI).
Officials on March 15 released Ly, now 63, from prison for one year so that he could receive medical treatment.
An outspoken advocate for religious freedom, Ly was sentenced to eight years in prison in March 2007 for “spreading propaganda” against the state. He had previously received 10- and 15-year sentences on similar charges.
“The release of Father Ly appears to be a one-off, related to his health,” Brittis Edman, Asia researcher for AI, told Compass by phone.
Human rights lawyer Le Thi Cong Nhan was released on March 6 after serving a three years in prison. Officials have sentenced 16 other “perceived dissidents” since last September.
“Those 16 are people whose names are in the public domain,” Edman added. “There are probably others we’re not aware of.”
Edman confirmed that Ly was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor, although few details are available on the prognosis or the availability of treatment. Fellow priests told the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) that Ly had suffered three strokes in May, September and November of last year, partially paralyzing his right arm and leg and making it difficult for him to walk, write or feed himself.
Following urgent requests from diocesan priests and family members, officials on March 14 granted Ly one year’s reprieve from his jail sentence. On March 15 they transported him by ambulance from Ba Sao prison camp in northern Ha Nam province to a home for retired priests in Hue, central Vietnam.
Under pressure from international advocacy groups including AI, the government may have granted Ly’s release to ward off potential embarrassment should he die in prison, Edman said.
“He’s a very public figure, and the Vietnamese government is not comfortable with being criticized.”
Religious Rights Campaigner
Ly was first jailed for one year in 1977 when he distributed a Church statement decrying the arrest of Buddhist monks and the treatment of Catholics in Vietnam, according to an AI report.
This was followed in December 1983 by a 10-year sentence served from the time of his arrest in May 1983 until his early release in July 1992. Prior to his arrest, Ly wrote a seven-point document urging officials to cease harassing Christians and announced that he was willing to be martyred for his faith.
In November 1994 Ly issued a “Ten Point Statement on the State of the Catholic Church in the Hue Diocese,” criticizing the lack of adequate training for would-be priests, the state’s interference in church teachings and its appropriation of church property.
He also became an advisory board member of the U.S.-based Committee for Religious Freedom in Vietnam (CRFV), according to AI.
In 1999, authorities objected when Ly coordinated relief projects for flood victims in partnership with CRFV. In November 2000, while U.S. President Bill Clinton and a CRFV delegation were in Vietnam, Ly reissued his ten-point statement and later made further appeals for religious freedom.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in February 2001 invited Ly to address a hearing on Vietnam. Though unable to attend, Ly submitted written testimony stating that the Vietnamese government had “stripped all churches of their independence and freedom” and urging that the U.S. Congress not ratify a long-negotiated U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement.
State-owned media then accused Ly of inviting “foreign hostile forces to intervene in Vietnam’s internal affairs” and inciting Catholic followers against the state.
Officials in May 2001 seized Ly during a church service and sentenced him to 15 years in prison for allegedly spreading anti-government propaganda. He was released under house arrest in February 2005 but arrested again in February 2007 and sentenced to eight years for organizing a pro-democracy event.
When the government released over 5,000 prisoners to mark Vietnam’s National Day last Sept. 2, Ly was omitted from the list despite vigorous international campaigns for his release. In a state media report quoted by UCAN, Vice Minister of Public Security Le The Tiem declared that the priest was “still in good enough health to serve his sentence.”