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Aussie cops drop probe into Afghan 'war crimes' reporting

Western forces have committed alleged war crimes in Afghanistan [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 October, 2020

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Australian police dropped an investigation into journalist Daniel Oakes and his producer Sam Clark who exposed war crimes in Afghanistan.

Police on Thursday dropped a lengthy investigation into a journalist who exposed alleged war crimes by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

Federal police said prosecutors found there were "reasonable prospects of conviction" in the case against Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalist Daniel Oakes, but determined it was not in the public interest to proceed with criminal charges.

The decision came more than three years after the ABC published the so-called "Afghan files", which alleged Australian troops had killed unarmed men and children in Afghanistan.

Police were investigating Oakes and his producer, Sam Clark, for obtaining classified information from a government whistleblower -- even controversially raiding the ABC's Sydney headquarters last year.

In a statement, the federal police said prosectors "considered a range of public interest factors, including the role of public interest journalism in Australia's democracy" before deciding not to prosecute.

ABC managing director David Anderson welcomed the news but said authorities never should have considered charges in the first place.

"This whole episode has been both disappointing and disturbing," he said in a statement.

Last year's raids on the ABC came a day after police searched the home of a political reporter for Rupert Murdoch's News Corp over a 2018 article alleging the government planned to expand its powers to spy on Australian citizens.

That case was also dropped earlier this year, but the twin operations sparked a storm of protest from media and civil liberties organisations.

Although the country's press can report largely free of political interference, strict defamation laws, court gag orders and state security laws impact what can be printed and broadcast.

And unlike most Western democracies, Australia does not have a bill of rights or a constitutionally enshrined protection for freedom of speech.

Following the raids, major news organisations put aside their normally fierce rivalry to jointly call for laws to protect public-interest journalism.

The government subsequently announced new oversight of criminal probes into journalists, but insisted on the need to crack down on leaks and said reporters could not be considered above the law.

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