Crime & Justice

Australia’s ABC to compensate soldier over war crimes defamation case

Sydney, Australia, Oct 16 (EFE).- An Australian court on Monday ordered Australian public broadcaster ABC to compensate former military man Heston Russell in a defamation case linked to the publication of articles about war crimes supposedly committed in 2012 in Afghanistan.

The amount of ordinary compensation ABC must pay is AUD390,000 ($246,363), according to the court decision published on the judicial portal.

Judge Michael Lee of the Australian Federal Court said in his ruling that ABC had not demonstrated that the dissemination of these digital articles, published in October 2020 and November 2021 along with radio and television reports, responded to the “public interest.”

Russell had sued the ABC and investigative journalists Mark Willacy and Joshua Robertson in 2021 after they reported that the November command – led by the then commander – had executed an unarmed prisoner in 2012 because there was not enough space on the aircraft due to transport them.

These articles were based on the stories of a former American marine nicknamed “Josh,” who had said he heard something over the radio, although he did not see Australian soldiers “shoot and kill a prisoner in their possession” according to the court.

In this case, the main point of the process was the “public interest,” since the ABC had relied on this argument, through which a medium must demonstrate that the matter it has published responds to a matter of public interest.

“The federal court has decided that it was not in the public interest for the commandos of the November Platoon to be accused of atrocious war crimes without any basis,” the former officer told reporters Monday in Sydney, who is also seeking that the ABC pay for the costs and remove the publications.

In another similar defamation case involving Australian soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, an Australian court ruled in June in favor of the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Canberra Times newspapers, from the Nine media group, considering that the publications were “substantially true.”

In 2018, the newspapers published articles accusing former Australian corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, the most decorated living soldier in the country, of war crimes committed in Afghanistan, in addition to harassment and threats to his colleagues, a ruling that was appealed.

The government is carrying out an investigation on the alleged war crimes perpetrated in Afghanistan by its troops between 2005 and 2016, after multiple complaints came to light. EFE


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