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Wikileaks founder relieved of passport in Oz

Document bit scuffed, gov bit sensitive?

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More apparent evidence last week of Australian government sensitivity to criticism, as immigration officials relieve Wikileaks founder Julian Assange of his passport on arrival at Melbourne airport.

Immigration officials reportedly told Australian newspaper The Age that Assange's passport is classified as 'normal' on the immigration database, meaning the Wikileaks founder can travel freely on it.

The only reason for stopping him was because the document was “looking worn”. Passports may be taken from travellers for short periods by immigration officials if they appear to be damaged.

They then returned the passport about 15 minutes later, when, Assange says, he was told that it was going to be or was already cancelled.

Half an hour after that, Assange claims he was approached by an Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer who made a search of one of his bags and asked him about his criminal record relating to computer hacking offences in 1991.

Since then, Assange further claims that he has been sent a letter from the office of Communication Minister Steven Conroy, confirming that they have asked the AFP to investigate the recent disclosure on Wikileaks of the Australian government's blacklist of banned websites.

However, a report in The Age states that according to a spokeswoman for the AFP, the federal police had dropped the case earlier this year because it was "not in our jurisdiction".

It would certainly not be beyond the bounds of conspiracy theory to imagine that, having embarrassed the Australian government with revelations that their internet blocklist ran away with itself and blocked links to YouTube clips, sites on euthanasia, fringe religions and traditional pornography (as well as the websites of a tour operator and a dentist), Assange is something of a target. On the other hand, given the chaos that appears to be in full flow at the Department for Communication, it is possible that this is all just more of the same incompetence.

Meanwhile, Assange - who is Australian but does not have an official home base - told the Australian current affairs programme Dateline that Australia is one of several countries where he feels unsafe. ®

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