Amnesty International considers the recently introduced Border Force Act a continuance of the Australian government's actions to ensure that conditions and treatment of asylum seekers in its offshore detention centres - including human rights abuses - are kept from the public, to prevent opposition to the policy.

Border Force Act risks creating 'prisoners of conscience'

Amnesty International would likely deem any staff member prosecuted and imprisoned for revealing to the public information about human rights abuses committed in Australia's immigration detention a ‘prisoner of conscience’, imprisoned unjustifiably for their criticism of the Australian government. Such measures would place Australia alongside other governments who imprison those who speak out in defence of human rights, such as Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Cuba.

This legislation is a clear act of censorship of staff working in immigration detention both in Australia and offshore. The ambiguities in the legislation are likely to prevent information about abuses in offshore detention being made public.

Governments should never bring criminal proceedings or otherwise penalize individuals who, while under an obligation of confidentiality or secrecy, reveal information about human rights abuses for conscientious reasons and in a responsible manner. Moreover, other people, including journalists, who communicate information about human rights abuses should never be subjected to such measures. The same applies as a general rule to revealing or communicating information about other matters of public interest.

Unlawful restrictions on freedom of expression

Relevant international standards outline a number of disclosures which should be protected, including disclosures of human rights abuses and other wrongdoing. A person who makes such a disclosure should not be subject to criminal or civil proceedings. They should also be protected from other forms of retaliation, including administrative or disciplinary action, demotion or dismissal (e.g. Save the Children workers who were dismissed from working at the Nauru IDC last year following the leaking of information).

The Act imposes unlawful restrictions on freedom of expression, and is therefore not in line with Australia’s obligations under international law. The Government should be promoting access to government information which is in the public interest rather than suppressing it.

The suppression of information about human rights abuses committed in Australia's offshore detention centres serves no clear security purpose, but instead serves only to protect a controversial but central policy of the Australian government.

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Amnesty International’s recommendations about the Act are that:

  • Unlawful restrictions on the right to freedom of expression should be removed.
  • The legislation should promote disclosure of any wrong-doing or human rights abuses to relevant authorities and the public.
  • A person who makes a disclosure of human rights abuses or other information which is in the public interest, should not be punished by imprisonment, criminal, civil or administrative action including dismissal.