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Australia warns on foreign spying operations and mentions Iran

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Foreign governments responsible for surveillance and interference operations in Australia will be publicly named and shamed, according to the country’s home affairs minister, who also revealed that Australia’s security agency recently disrupted an Iranian operation.

Australian Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said on Tuesday that foreign governments found to be behind operations focused on politicians, academics and community leaders in Australia will be called out in public as such intimidation “operates in the shadows, and our best defence is to bring it into the light”.

“We must not only disrupt these operations, but also deter future ones by imposing costs on their sponsors through outing them,” O’Neil said in a speech to the Australian National University’s National Security College.

“It is perfectly legal in Australia for anyone to criticise a foreign regime, as tens of thousands of people have done in response to events in Iran,” she said.

“Under any circumstances, we will not tolerate attempts by foreign regimes to disrupt peaceful protests, incite violence, or suppress views,” she said, adding that foreign interference was a threat to Australia’s democracy.

“You will be discovered if you engage in activities like this,” O’Neil wrote in a later tweet.

O’Neil also revealed that the domestic intelligence agency Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) shut down an Iranian government surveillance operation against a dual citizen linked to protests in Australia over the death in Iranian custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini late last year.

Amini died in September after being arrested by Iran’s moral police for breaking the country’s strict Islamic dress code for women.

Months of domestic and international protests have followed Amini’s death.

Without going into specifics, O’Neil stated that Iran conducted “extensive research” on an Australian-based individual “and their family” who were involved in protest organising in Australia.

“I’m pleased to say that our agencies were on it right away,” she said.

“We will not stand by while Australians or visitors to our country are watched and tracked by foreign governments on our soil.”

According to the AFP news agency, Iran’s embassy in Australia has yet to respond to the allegations.

When foreign interference legislation was introduced in Australia’s Parliament in 2018, then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull cited allegations of Chinese government meddling in Australian politics and universities, eliciting a vehement response from Beijing.

O’Neil made no mention of China in her speech, despite the fact that Australia and China have recently attempted to repair diplomatic ties, with Beijing beginning to ease trade restrictions on Australian coal and agricultural products.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation headquarters in Canberra, Australia, as seen from the outside. (Image by: Lukas Coch/EPA-EFE)

On the same day, Australian officials announced that dozens of Chinese-made security cameras would be removed from politicians’ offices, just days after the country’s defence and foreign ministers announced that the cameras would be removed from their respective departments due to security concerns.

According to figures released last week, at least 913 Chinese-made security cameras have been installed across more than 250 Australian government buildings, including the Department of Defence’s facilities.

The Department of Finance confirmed that another 65 closed-circuit television systems had been installed in Australian politicians’ offices and would now be removed.

Info source – Al Jazeera

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