Cases about freedom of expression (3)

Coleman v Australia (HRC, 2006)

Remedy's assessment: Unremedied

This 26-year-old made a speech in Townsville’s pedestrian mall without a permit, in breach of a local government by-law. He was fined and subsequently detained by police for 5 days for non-payment of the fine. The HRC found that his speech was on subjects of public interest (human rights, land rights and mining) and his conduct was neither threatening nor unduly disruptive. His arrest, conviction and imprisonment were ‘disproportionate’ and ‘undoubtedly’ a violation of his freedom of expression. Australia was asked to quash his conviction, refund his fines or court costs (nearly $3,000) and compensate him for his imprisonment. It has done none of these.

Read more on Coleman v Australia.

Dewage v Australia (CAT, 2013)

Remedy's assessment: Unremedied

Mr Dewage was a union organiser and active member of an opposition party in Sri Lanka. He suffered threats, harassment and assault from members of governing and rival parties and was also ill-treated by members of the LTTE. After he escaped to Australia, ‘thugs’ broke into his house and his mother’s house looking for him, injuring his mother and threatening to kill his family. His wife fled and has not been heard from since.

Australia rejected Mr Dewage’s refugee claim and detained him pending deportation. He petitioned CAT, which issued interim views requesting he not be deported while it considered his communication. The Committee concluded that Mr Dewage faced a ‘foreseeable, real and personal risk of being subjected to torture by Government officials if returned to Sri Lanka’ and that Australia must therefore ‘refrain from forcibly returning [him] to Sri Lanka or to any other country where he runs a real risk of being expelled or returned to Sri Lanka.’

Read more on Dewage v Australia.

Hicks v Australia (HRC, 2015)

Remedy's assessment: Partially remedied

Australian man David Hicks was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and detained by the US at Guantánamo Bay. In 2007, he was tried by Military Commission and sentenced to 7 years’ jail. Under a prisoner transfer agreement, Hicks was moved to Australia, where he served 7 months of his sentence, the remainder being suspended. Hicks claims his military trial was unfair, his conviction unlawfully retrospective and his detention arbitrary.

The UN Human Rights Committee found that Australia imprisoning Mr Hicks for 7 months following his return to Australia amounted to arbitrary detention, but that no individual remedy was owed to Mr Hicks because Australia’s “actions were intended to benefit” him. Australia is nonetheless obliged to “prevent similar violations in the future.”

Read more on Hicks v Australia.