Secrecy laws imposed by the Australian government have effectively put a gag on officials and restrict access to government information, a U.N. investigation found.
Michel Forst, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on human rights defenders, urged Australia on Tuesday to re-examine its secrecy laws, including the Border Force Act, which forbids officials from making “unauthorized disclosures” about conditions at an Australian-run immigration camp in Nauru.
“The immigration department has gone to extraordinary lengths to curb whistleblowers, public servants or contractors, to share information in the public domain about serious human rights abuses in offshore detention centers,” he said.
Under the law, any “entrusted person,” including whistleblowers, contractors or doctors working at the detention center, could face a two-year prison term if they were to disclose “protected information.”
The law came about last year as part of an Australian policy that sends all asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat to the nearby island nations of Nauru or Papua New Guinea. There are currently more than 1,100 asylum seekers living on Nauru.
During his two-week visit to Australia, Forst said officials assured him no one had yet been charged under the Border Force Act, but he was still skeptical.
“This may well be the case, but the Act's existence and government actions aimed at censoring and intimidating advocates has had a chilling effect on the disclosure of information about violations in off-shore processing,” he said in a statement.