11 July 2011
This month marks a year since the release of Lex Wotton, a respected Palm Island Aboriginal leader, who was jailed for his role in a protest following the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee. As part of his parole conditions Wotton is under a gag order, which prevents him from speaking to the media.
The Queensland Parole Board approved Wotton’s application for release after 19 months in prison, on a range of conditions, including a ban on attending public meetings without prior approval and a ban on speaking to the media.
Wotton, a former community councillor, has lodged a High Court challenge against the gag order. The High Court case will challenge parole conditions for Australian prisoners, arguing that strict conditions such as gag orders place an unreasonable limit on human rights and are unconstitutional.
Queensland is the only state in Australia that imposes a ban on those on parole contacting the media. In 2005, journalist Anne Delaney, was charged and fined for interviewing a prisoner without permission in Queensland.Whilst there is no doubt that parole conditions do place some justified limitations on human rights, in Wotton’s case, the concern is that “his rights of freedom of political communication and political association are being impinged”, according to Ben Shockman of the Human Rights Law Centre. A group inspired by Wotton’s high court challenge has ramped up a campaign to regain Wotton’s right to free speech.
The Indigenous Social Justice Association has sent a petition to Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, demanding that she intervene to overturn the censorship of Wotton. In a press release Alicia Thorne, speaking on behalf of the group vowed that they would continue to argue for Wotton’s rights until the gag is lifted. “Lex Wotton is seen by the Queensland Government as someone who must be silenced because it is desperate to bury the shameful truth about Mulrunji and the botched investigation that followed.”
The death of Mulrunji Doomadgee in police custody on Palm Island in 2004, attracted much media attention and public interest, with Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley charged with manslaughter and then later acquitted of the crime.
The Melbourne branch of the Indigenous Social Justice Association has started a petition to overturn the gag order and will be holding a lunch time speak out on Wednesday July 20 from 12.30-1.30 outside the Bank of Queensland, 163 Bourke Street Melbourne. More information can be found here.