Lawyer Jennifer Robinson, who has represented Wikileaks founder Julian Assange during his British legal battles against extradition to Sweden, claims to have been stopped at London Heathrow Airport. She says she was told she couldn’t board a flight to Australia until the Australian High Commission cleared her. The immigration incident has sparked anger among lawyers’ groups.
Via Twitter, Robinson said she was delayed from checking in at Heathrow because she’s ‘inhibited’ to travel until being approved by the Australian House. An immigration security officer told her that she must have done something controversial, as they have to call the embassy. She was put on the list of a ‘certain government agency’. Then she posted a tweet addressed to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). She asked them to explain what the inhibited travel list was and why she is apparently on it now.
A spokesman for the DFAT said they aren’t aware of any restrictions on Robinson’s travel. She would be free to return to Australia any time, as she has a valid passport. UK border officials or the airline she was due to fly with may be able to provide more insight on the claim that she was stopped from boarding the plane.
It’s believed Robinson is now on a plane bound for Sydney via Hong Kong. Lawyers’ groups have been infuriated by the incident. Australian Lawyers Alliance president Greg Barns says she’s a lawyer who is acting for Assange and should be able to travel wherever in the world she wants. There shouldn’t be any reason why this happened, and the Australian government needs to give an explanation. It has been deceiving through this issue, refused to give Assange assistance and is now working with the UK to put his lawyer on an inhibited travel list.
Barns added that he’s never even heard of an inhibited travel list, and it’s extraordinary that a lawyer would be placed on such a list. If the Australian government doesn’t have anything to do with it, it needs to request an explanation from the British government, which should be be made public.
Attorney General Nicola Roxon has told media sources repeatedly that Assange has been afforded the same consular assistance from Australian consular officials as any citizen in his situation. She is due to face an interrogation by lawyers about the matter while at the Commonwealth Regional Law Conference in Sydney on Friday. Commonwealth Law Association former president Ron Heinrich says Robinson’s treatment was unprecedented if the claims are true. The incident has raise serious problems concerning the independence of lawyers and clients. He anticipates a lot of people asking Roxon about the matter at the conference, he added.
Meanwhile, there is speculation in legal circles about Robinson’s involvement in the case of Bradley Manning in the US. This is the soldier who is accused of leaking confidential US documents to Wikileaks. There is also speculation about her involvement with human rights cases in the Papua provinces of Indonesia. These may have been factors in the incident at Heathrow Airport.
On top of this, the term ‘inhibited’ is more commonly used among security agencies in the US. According to an October 28, 2008 document from the US Department of Homeland Security, which was uncovered by Bernard Keane (a Crikey journalist), the term is an American security term. It refers to the status of a traveller or non-traveller that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has told aircraft and airport operators not to issue a boarding pass to or to provide access to a sterile area.
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