August 13, 2018
Former Timor-Leste president Jose Ramos-Horta has called upon the Australian government to drop the prosecution against former Australian Secret Intelligence Services (ASIS) Agent, Witness K, and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery. Ramos-Horta joins a chorus of human rights organizations and activists to condemn the case, including Human Rights Watch and the Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea (MKOTT).
On June 2, 2018, Australian MP Andrew Wilkie used Parliamentary Privilege to reveal that the pair were being prosecuted for their involvement in revealing the Australian bugging of Timor-Leste offices during negotiations of a treaty. Wilkie’s revelation, in conjunction with recent protest, raises the question; what precedent does the prosecution establish for future whistle-blowers? Is the prosecution fair? And ultimately, how does the case characterize Australia? In considering these questions, this article will first consider the historical context of the prosecution, before considering the Ramos-Horta’s arguments against the case and its broader implications.
In 2004, ASIS planted listening devices in the cabinet office of Timor-Leste to gather information concerning negotiations of the Timor Sea Treaty which determined exclusive economic zones within the Timor Gap. This area, rich in oil and natural gas worth forty billion dollars, is highly contested. At the time, the division of territory favored Australia. According to a court summons detailed in The Guardian, Witness K ‘unlawfully communicated’ this bugging to Collaery, who in turn notified several journalists.