Australian media outlets have been banned from reporting on an international bribery scandal involving subsidiaries of the country's reserve bank.
According to documents published this week by Wikileaks, Australian media are even barred from reporting on the gag order itself, known as a “super-injunction”.
The case prompting the super- injunction has been described by Wikileaks as “the largest high-level corruption case in Australia and the region”.
According to Wikileaks, the case involves allegations that “agents” of subsidiaries of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and Note Printing Australia bribed officials from the governments of a number of South-east Asian nations to secure contracts to print bank notes. The countries include Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and others, according to Wikileaks.
The super-injunction was issued by the criminal division of the supreme court of Victoria in Melbourne, after seven senior executives of RBA subsidiaries were secretly indicted on June 19, Wikileaks stated.
A suppression order also covers 17 other individuals who cannot be named in relation to the investigation, including heads of state of countries involved in the deal. The document justifies the gag on national security grounds.
“The purpose of these orders is to prevent damage to Australia's international relations that may be caused by the publication of material that may damage the reputations of specified individuals who are not the subject of charges in these proceedings,” the document reads.
Along with journalists, the general public may also be at risk of criminal prosecution for mentioning the case or gag order, according to media lawyer Peter Bartlett.
Bartlett told Australia's Age newspaper that although using the Wikileaks hashtag is legal, mentioning the document itself could be grounds for prosecution. Sharing links to the leaked document could likewise attract charges, he stated.
“The person within the state of Victoria who has sent the suppression order to Wikileaks themselves has breached the suppression order, so if police could find that person they could prosecute them,” Bartlett told the Age.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange accused the Australian government of “blindfolding the Australian public”.
“The concept of 'national security' is not meant to serve as a blanket phrase to cover up serious corruption allegations involving government officials, in Australia or elsewhere. It is in the public interest for the press to be able to report on this case,” he stated.
“Foreign Minister Julie Bishop must explain why she is threatening every Australian with imprisonment in an attempt to cover up an embarrassing corruption scandal involving the Australian government,” he said.