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Campaigners in Australia slam prison sentence handed to whistleblower who exposed war crimes in Afghanistan

CAMPAIGNERS slammed the sentencing of a former army lawyer to almost six years in prison today for leaking to the media classified information that exposed allegations of Australian war crimes in Afghanistan.

David McBride was sentenced in a court in the capital, Canberra, to five years and eight months in prison after pleading guilty to three charges including theft and sharing with members of the press documents classified as secret. 

Justice David Mossop ordered Mr McBride to serve 27 months in prison before he can be considered for release on parole.

Rights advocates argue that McBride’s conviction and sentencing before any alleged war criminal he helped expose reflected a lack of whistleblower protections in Australia.

On his way to sentencing Mr McBride told a cheering crowd of his supporters outside the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court: “I may have broken the law, but I did not break my oath to the people of Australia and the soldiers that keep us safe.” 

Mr McBride’s documents formed the basis of an Australian Broadcasting Corp seven-part television series in 2017 that contained war crime allegations including Australian Special Air Service Regiment soldiers killing unarmed Afghan men and children in 2013.

Human Rights Watch’s Australia director Daniela Gavshon said: “It is a stain on Australia’s reputation that some of its soldiers have been accused of war crimes in Afghanistan, and yet the first person convicted in relation to these crimes is a whistleblower not the abusers.

“David McBride’s jail sentence reinforces that whistleblowers are not protected by Australian law. It will create a chilling effect on those taking risks to push for transparency and accountability — cornerstones of democracy,” she said.

An Australian military report released in 2020 found evidence that Australian troops had unlawfully killed 39 Afghan prisoners, farmers and civilians. 

The report recommended 19 current and former soldiers face criminal investigation.

Mr McBride is planning to appeal the severity of the court’s sentence.

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