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Australia jails Afghan war crimes whistleblower

The Australian top court has sentenced to jail the country’s “first whistleblower” of war crimes, triggering criticism from human rights and press freedom defenders.

Former military lawyer David McBride was imprisoned on Tuesday for five years and eight months by the Supreme Court without parole for more than two years and three months.

Although McBride argued his actions contained a public interest element, it was rejected by a trial judge, and he subsequently pleaded guilty last November.

McBride faced five charges and pleaded guilty to three offences, including stealing information and passing it on to journalists.

The former military lawyer leaked documents that formed the basis of the Afghan Files revelations on Australian special forces operations in Afghanistan.

His alleged revelations of classified documents to reporters exposed war crimes committed by at least 25 Australian special forces personnel in Afghanistan, which involved the killing of 39 Afghans between 2005 and 2016.

‘Not a war criminal’

Rawan Arraf, executive director at the Australian Centre for International Justice, said it is a “travesty” that the first person imprisoned in relation to Australia’s war crimes in Afghanistan is not a war criminal but a whistleblower.

Arraf said McBride “enabled important public interest journalism” by leaking the documents on war crimes.

McBride is the “first whistleblower to be imprisoned in recent memory in Australia,” said the Australia-based Human Rights Law Centre.

His leaks “showed credible evidence of war crimes committed by Australian forces in Afghanistan,” it added.

Kieran Pender, acting legal director at the Human Rights Law Centre, said: “This is a dark day for Australian democracy. The imprisonment of a whistleblower will have a grave chilling effect on potential truth-tellers.”

“Our democracy suffers when people can’t speak up about potential wrongdoing. There is no public interest in prosecuting whistleblowers,” said Pender.

Peter Greste, executive director at the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, said: “Press freedom relies on protections for journalists and their sources.”

“Australia recently dropped to 39th on the global press freedom index, and it is cases like this that undermine the freedom of the press in our country,” he said.

Source: TRT World