A Chinese-born Australian political adviser yesterday lost his challenge in Australia’s highest court against laws banning covert foreign interference in domestic politics.
John Zhang (張智森) also lost his Australian High Court challenge in a unanimous decision of seven judges to the validity of search warrants executed by police at his Sydney home and offices last year as part of an investigation into illegal foreign interference on behalf of China.
Zhang was an adviser to New South Wales Lawmaker Shaoquett Moselmane, whose membership in the opposition Labor Party was suspended after he was also the target of police raids.
The raids in June last year were the first police investigation to grab public attention since the foreign interference laws came into force in 2018 and Canberra bolstered funding to security agencies in late 2019 to enforce them.
Chen Hong (陳弘), director of East China Normal University’s Australian Studies Center, wrote in the Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party newspaper, after the raids that Moselmane “unfortunately fell prey to the anti-China hysteria in Australia.”
Zhang, a 63-year-old who immigrated from China in 1989, had asked the court to rule the foreign interference laws were invalid because they infringed on his freedom of political communication implied in the Australian constitution.
He had also asked the court to quash the search warrants and order that evidence seized or copied by police be returned or destroyed.
His case argued that the foreign interference law was invalid and that the warrant did not precisely identify the alleged offenses.
Police seized smartphones, computers and other electronic devices from Zhang.
The warrants accuse Zhang of engagement with Moselmane “through a private social media chat group and other fora ... to advance the interests and policy goals of a foreign principal,” the Chinese government.
Part of the conduct was “covert” because it involved communications over an encrypted private social media chat group, the warrants said.
Lawyers for Australian Attorney General Michaelia Cash argued in court that “covert” could be read as “involving some element of nefarious concealment or secrecy.”
The law made it illegal to engage in conduct on behalf of “a foreign principal” in circumstances where the accused person is “reckless” as to whether the conduct would influence political or governmental process or democracy in Australia, and if any part of the conduct is covert.
The offense carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
The court upheld the charge and rejected Zhang’s argument that the warrants were invalid because the foreign principal’s identity was unclear.
Cash said Canberra had never been more determined to keep Australians free and safe from foreign interference.
“The government takes the threat of foreign interference very seriously and welcomes the High Court’s judgement,” she said. “We will continue to take strong action to deter acts of foreign interference as the threat evolves, defend against them when they occur and uphold our laws.”
Australian Federal Police said that its investigation was continuing.
Zhang’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Chinese authorities have marshalled extraordinary resources to monitor a herd of traveling elephants and to keep it away from residential areas. Media reports quoted the Yunnan Forest Fire Brigade as saying that a team of eight people have been tracking the elephants, around the clock, on the ground and by drone. In the latest update, authorities said that the herd of wild Asian elephants had been tracked to a forest just outside a village in Xiyang Township, in Yunnan Province, about 90km southwest of the city of Kunming, heading back in the direction they came from. Drone images showed the elephants lying down
Tall, thin and brightly colored, Hanoi’s “tube houses” dominate the city’s streets as 9 million people compete for space in Vietnam’s bustling capital. Although Vietnam saw a number of villas and garden houses built during the French colonial period, Hanoi has few of these grand residential homes. Instead, tree-lined streets are packed with dwellings that are barely 4m wide, but are three times that in depth. Typically, a tube house might be home to a family of four, but two or three generations of relatives sometimes have to jostle for space. The first tube houses — known as nha ong in Vietnamese — are
The head of the Philippine military on Monday visited a coral-fringed island his country occupies in the South China Sea, a move that could stoke already heightened tensions between Manila and Beijing in disputed waters claimed by both countries. During the visit, Philippine Armed Forces Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana commended service members for the role they played in protecting the island’s residents and “guarding the country’s territories” in the strategic waterway. The visit comes after diplomatic protests made by the Philippines in the past few months over what it says is the illegal presence of hundreds of “Chinese maritime militia” vessels inside
Maori might have been the first to discover Antarctica, with connections to the icy continent and its surrounding oceans stretching back to the seventh century, researchers say. A new paper by University of Otago combines literature and oral histories, and concludes that Maori were likely the first people to explore Antarctica’s surrounding waters and possibly the continent in the distance. They write that Maori and Polynesian journeys to the deep south have been occurring for a long time, perhaps as far back as the 7th century, and are recorded in a variety of oral traditions. The oral histories of Maori groups Ngti Rrua