Government threatens freedom of speech

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre joins Australian Lawyers for Human Rights and the Human Rights Council of Australia in condemning Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, for threatening to ban the Falun Gong from future consultations by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with human rights organisations in Australia.

Members of Falun Gong have been invited to participate in these twice-yearly consultations, but they are now threatened with exclusion if they persist with their plans to hold a peaceful protest outside today’s meeting.

“Most people involved in human rights and social justice issues in Australia are aware of the Falun Gong and of their peaceful attempts to highlight their treatment by the Chinese Government. Australian’s fiercely uphold the importance of freedom of political speech and yet our Federal Government is threatening to penalise Falun Gong for exercising that fundamental right. This is not the action you would expect from a representative government in a democratic society”, said Robin Banks, Director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

“Freedom of speech is a vital element of democracy. The Australian constitution recognizes freedom of political communication. The Government should be acting to support and promote the exercise of this freedom. Its failure to do so brings into question the strength of this government’s commitment to human rights and the democratic process itself. The purpose of the DFAT consultations is for human rights organisations to raise issues with DFAT and hear from the Department on aspects of its work relevant to human rights. This threatened ban makes a mockery of such consultative processes.”

Today’s meeting is going ahead under protest from the non-government organisations, including the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

“Whether and on what terms PIAC will accept invitations to future consultations from the Minister depends on what position he takes on the right to freedom of expression.” said Ms Banks. “We call on the Government to confirm that the Falun Gong will continue to be invited to participate in the consultative process and to make the clearest possible statement in support of the right of freedom of expression.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Dominic O’Grady, Media and Communications Officer,

Public Interest Advocacy Centre. Ph: 02 8898 6532 or 0400 110 169

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