Civil society groups are calling on Australia to halt the prosecution of a man who leaked classified documents detailing allegations of Australian special forces committing war crimes in Afghanistan.
The call came just hours before the trial of David McBride, a former military lawyer, is to commence at the Supreme Court in Canberra on Monday — and is expected to last three weeks. He is facing charges of theft of government property, breach of defense law, and disclosure of classified information, with a potential life sentence if convicted.
McBride has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Human Rights Law Center or HRLC, an alliance of Australian civil society groups and unions said in a statement that the prosecution of the war crimes whistleblowers would deter whistleblowers.
“There is no public interest in prosecuting whistleblowers. Today is a dark day for Australian democracy. The truth is on trial,” Kieran Pender, senior HRLC lawyer, said in the statement.
McBride was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 and 2013 as a Defense Force lawyer. He began leaking classified documents to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation between 2014 and 2016 about alleged war crimes by Australian special forces, according to the national broadcaster.
And… today, ADF Whistleblower David McBride is on trial at the Supreme Court in Canberra for exposing alleged, Australian war crimes in Afghanistan.
— Lorraine Harvey (@LorraineHarvey_) November 13, 2023
A subsequent independent investigation into the revelations accused Australian special forces of unlawfully killing at least 39 Afghan civilians.
War crimes whistleblower David McBride declares ‘today I serve my country’ as trial starts https://t.co/YHBgcbPcBI
— Guardian Australia (@GuardianAus) November 12, 2023
The HRLC statement quoted former Australian senator and founder of the Whistleblower Justice Fund, Rex Patrick, as saying that the government had the power to stop the trial.
“We may now see one brave whistleblower behind bars and thousands of prospective whistleblowers lost from the community,” Patrick said. “There was no public interest in this prosecution and that things have come to this is a blight on this government’s pre-election commitment to foster and protect whistleblowers,” he added.
— ??Paula Iasella??? (@Plucille54) November 12, 2023