Lex Wotton challenging draconian gag order

Lex Wotton

Lex Wotton's High Court Appeal

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ELEANOR HALL: The man convicted of leading the 2004 Palm Island riots is appealing to the High Court of Australia to lift a media gag which was imposed as one of his parole conditions.

Lex Wotton was released from prison last year but is still prohibited from speaking to the media or attending public gatherings.

Human rights lawyers say his parole conditions are unconstitutional, as Josh Bavas reports.

POLICE OFFICER ON RADIO (2008 audio): There is Palm Island police station well on fire, well alight. They have given us one hour to get off the island.

JOSH BAVAS: In 2008, Lex Wotton was convicted of leading the Palm Island riots. The riots followed the death in custody in 2004 of Cameron Doomadgee who had been arrested for swearing at a police officer.

POLICE OFFICER ON RADIO (2008 audio): We are not to leave the island. We are not to leave the island.

JOSH BAVAS: Within just a few hours, the prefabricated police station, barracks and courthouse on the island were destroyed.

Lex Wotton was released from prison last year after serving two years of a six year sentence.

But while the Queensland Parole Board approved his early release, it imposed the condition that he not speak with the media for another four years.

Ben Schokman from the Human Rights Law Centre is assisting with his appeal.

BEN SCHOKMAN: There's concern that these quite draconian parole conditions not enabling him to have any contact whatsoever with the media and not enabling him to attend to any public meeting without approval, raise questions about whether or not these are unjustifiable limitations on those rights that are fundamentally protected in the Australian Constitution.

JOSH BAVAS: The matter is set down before the High Court for a hearing in early August. Mr Wotton's being assisted by several lawyers from a number of firms.

Ben Schokman says the 42-year-old has a strong case.

BEN SCHOKMAN: There essentially are no other means available for him to be able to communicate, for him to be able to associate with others so we think that those court decisions lend strong claim to us being able to make successful arguments before the court.

JOSH BAVAS: Chairwoman of the Indigenous Human Rights Committee, Gracelyn Smallwood, says the parole conditions are unjustified.

GRACELYN SMALLWOOD: I've been dealing with people, our mob leaving jail for the last 30 years and I've never, ever come across a case where the prisoners on parole have been given a four-year ban on speaking to anyone about their case, in particular the press. So we're talking about violations of human rights and travesty of justice.

Lex Wotton would have to be one of those Indigenous Australians that have had all of these violations and so we're very pleased that Lex's lawyer and legal team is taking it to the High Court to hopefully intervene over all these colonial outdated legislation and policies that have been impounding on all Queenslanders.

JOSH BAVAS: Before the riots and conviction, Lex Wotton ran for mayor of Palm Island.

Gracelyn Smallwood says the last seven years have almost ruined him.

GRACELYN SMALLWOOD: I went to Palm Island last week and said hello to my brother (Lex Wotton). We would have loved him to come to our meeting which, it was a Red Dust Healing, healing a lot of our Aboriginal men of all the trans-generational trauma but Lex is not allowed under the probation, under his parole conditions otherwise they'll put him straight back to jail.

This man is living like an alien in his own country that he can't attend meetings, he can't attend gatherings. He couldn't even attend a confidential men's business healing program on his own community.

What's going on in this country? Our Prime Minister goes overseas to China to start talking about negotiations of economic development and violations of human rights in their country and in our own backyard they haven't even started to raise the issue with what's going on with the first Australians here.

JOSH BAVAS: It could take up to six months for the High Court to make a decision on the appeal. The Queensland Department of Justice and Corrective Services have refused to comment on the case until it is processed by the court.

ELEANOR HALL: Josh Bavas reporting.

Farah Farouque The Age May 26, 2011

A Palm Island indigenous activist convicted of rioting following the death in custody of Cameron Doomadgee will mount a High Court challenge to a gag that prevents him from talking to the media.

As part of parole conditions, Lex Wotton is prohibited from "speaking to and having any interaction whatsoever with the media", nor can he attend public meetings on Palm Island without permission of Queensland Corrective Services.

When Mr Wotton sought permission from his parole officer to attend a juvenile justice forum in October last year to speak on youth alcohol and drug use in his community, he was denied permission, according to court documents obtained by The Age.

His challenge could have profound consequences as it will test the nature and scope of the right to freedom of political communication, participation and association under the constitution.

Phil Lynch, from the Human Rights Law Centre, which is backing the challenge to be heard in August, said the case strikes at the heart of what is meant by "representative democracy".

In two previous cases - one involving prisoner voting rights and the other, early closure of the Commonwealth electoral roll - the High Court has been developing the concept of representative democracy, although it is not explicitly stated in the constitution.

Mr Lynch said Mr Wotton's case raised "fundamental civil and political rights". "It should be the case that prisoners and former prisoners are not denied any rights other than the right to liberty. To deny them other rights, such as freedom of speech, is to undermine their rehabilitation and re-integration."

After a jury trial in 2008, four years after the Palm Island riot, Mr Wotton was found to have breached the Queensland Criminal Code and was sentenced to six years' jail. A district court judge determined that he was a leader of the riot, which caused millions of dollars in damage to Palm Island infrastructure.

In author Chloe Hooper's book The Tall Man, she described Mr Wotton's actions at the riot as drawing national attention to Cameron (Mulrunji) Doomadgee's death in custody, which had occurred a week earlier.

Following his release in July last year, Mr Wotton has worked at the Palm Island drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre.

His legal team, including Melbourne counsel Ron Merkel, QC, will seek to strike out a section of the Queensland Corrective Services Act 2006 and invalidate parts of his parole, including the media gag.

Mr Lynch said that under Queensland law, if the The Age spoke to Mr Wotton, the journalist could face charges and jail.

Melboune: Lex Wotton Speakout
Wednesday, 20 Jul 2011 - 12:30pm - 1:30pm

163 Bourke Street, Melbourne
Speak out for Lex Wotton’s Political Freedom!
Outside Bank of Queensland, 163 Bourke Street, Melbourne

Lift the unfair gag — let Lex speak!
Build the movement to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody

Organised by Indigenous Social Justice Association – Melbourne
PO Box 308, Brunswick, Vic 3056
For more information call
Cheryl on 0401 806 331 or Solidarity Salon on 9388 0062

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Email alison.thorne@ozemail.com.au
website: isja-msg.com