May 27, 2020 / 6:15 AM / 2 months ago

Australia drops probe of journalist over use of classified documents

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian police have dropped their investigation of a News Corp journalist over the disclosure of a national security document in 2018, citing a lack of evidence.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) last June raided the home of a News Corp editor, Annika Smethurst, and a day later raided the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC), both over allegations they had published classified material.

The raids sparked an outcry about the need for media freedom to scrutinise national security and defence issues.

AFP Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney said police had “reviewed all available material and determined there is insufficient evidence to progress the investigation in relation to the unauthorised disclosure of the classified document” by Smethurst.

Smethurst’s suspected source for the information would not be prosecuted either, McCartney said.

“No one will be prosecuted in relation to this unauthorised disclosure,” McCartney told reporters.

Police were criticised over the raid, which included officers digging through Smethurst’s clothes drawers, according to media reports.

The raid came after a Sunday Telegraph article in 2018 that said intelligence agencies wanted to carry out surveillance by getting access to people’s emails, bank accounts and text messages.

Australia’s highest court in April ruled, based on a technicality, that the AFP warrant to search Smethurst’s home was invalid, but did not order police to destroy the seized material.

News Corp said it was unacceptable that a High Court decision was needed for Smethurst’s ordeal of living with the threat of jail to be ended.

“Common sense has prevailed, but at a price,” New Corp Australasia chairman Michael Miller said in a statement.

The journalists’ trade union welcomed the police decision but warned that laws remained in place that could lead to any Australian journalist facing the same treatment.

Police were still investigating the ABC, McCartney said.

Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Robert Birsel

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