Heat has seized the day; I go to a tea-house to pass the time. It is a site of splendid lethargy. Backgammon is played and prayer beads are fiddled. Several men sleep. A television babbles news at us.
I crouch over a glass of tea, and idly take notes as footage flickers away in front of me. I don’t understand how the program is sourced; headlines come in either French or English before being quickly obscured with the script of the local language. I am not watching carefully, but I happen to see a headline of interest in the moment before it is covered with in a translation. It reads: “Press Freedom Fears in Australia.”
I am watching this news is a repressive country. It is so heavily censored that I am reluctant to name it, in case I am rejected a visa later. It is so restricted that I am using a virtual network to publish this, and indeed to access the news from home. There is something horrific about seeing my own country’s freedoms diminishing as I travel through here.
Australians can be fairly oblivious about the importance of these sorts of things. Maybe have been too lucky for too long. But let me make this perfectly clear: there is no good reason why police raids should be happening around the stories in question this week.
If our country’s armed forces have murdered innocent people in Afghanistan – as ABC’s ‘Afghan Files’ story, for which they’re being investigated, have alleged – is there any legitimate reason why we should not know about it? If our government’s surveillance agency is trying to broaden their powers to spy on its own citizens, should we not have some awareness? The same should be said for what our country is perpetrating in the detention camps we have set up for asylum seekers on neighbouring islands, journalism on which has been suppressed considerably. These are public issues; they are happening in our name. Can anyone really tell me that these are things that should not be known by every Australian? That Australians do not have the right to discuss these matters?
If you think such things should be kept secret, and that reporters indeed ought to be silenced, I urge you to visit to a country in which journalists have truly lost their rights, and see what you make of it. When can be no criticism for government or military, citizens are not safe. I can assure you that the government of the country where I am right now uses “national security” as an excuse for much of its system of oppression – including sending a huge number of critical thinkers and writers to gaol.
The people I am meeting here do not understand how I am able to travel so freely and frequently. Their question is difficult to answer. Much of the reality it is that I have been very fortunate. My passport, my currency, and my country’s labour laws are all significantly responsible. I have long since believed that this luck will run out. The history of nations shows that all will come and go. Much of what I have loved about Australia is already starting to decay. The humiliating fact is that as citizens, we have made so few demands on our leaders to show any accountability. The raids this week are an extension of that. We must come out snarling, and demanding better from our institutions. We deserve much more information – not less. We cannot be fobbed off with lazy excuses about national security.
Let me make it clear again: there is no justification for these federal police raids on journalists, and there is plenty of evidence that this is how authoritarianism – of the kind to which we have always believed we were – begins. We’d better pipe up about this before it’s too late.