(MELBOURNE) -- A US peace activist and history teacher, Scott Parkin, has been arrested in Melbourne after his visa was revoked on grounds of character. He was deemed "a threat to national security" by the Australian Department of Immigration, according to a spokesperson from Anti-Deportation Alliance. The ABC has reported that the Federal police have confirmed an American man was arrested on the orders of the Immigration Department (DIMIA) and is in custody.
Mr Parkin participated in an anti-war profiteering protest outside Halliburton in Sydney on August 31, and was also reported to have attended the Forbes Global CEO Conference protest.
Liz Thompson from the National Anti-Deportation Alliance (NADA) said Mr Parkin was held by Federal Police at Carlton West police station before being moved to Melbourne Custody Centre on Saturday September 10. She said the incident seemed to contradict Philip Ruddock's denial that Australia was turning into a police state.
"This is a major attack on dissent, free speech and the anti-war movement. This should be a warning to everyone about the greater powers that ASIO may soon be granted," Ms Thompson said. She was referring to the proposed legislation to increase police and ASIO powers in dealing with suspected terrorists.
Federal Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock stated that he knew of the case, and that it was an issue for the Immigration Minister. He said that a security assessment of Mr Parkin had been conducted, and it was this security assessment that provided the basis for the decision to revoke his visa.
"I understand the decision was based upon a security assessment, and security assessments are not something about which I can comment in any detail," he said. "I understand it's a decision that's been taken by the Minister for Immigration and that there may be legal proceedings surrounding it."
Spokesperson for the Brisbane Peace Convergence Kim Stewart said Mr Parkin's detention and deportation posed a "dangerous precedent to free speech in Australia".
"By arresting and threatening to deport Mr Parkin, the government is already using its power to silence non-violent peace campaigners and discourage peaceful dissent in our community," Ms Stewart said.
Julian Burnside QC, a prominent human rights lawyer, asked why it took so long for authorities to act if indeed Mr Parkin is a security threat.
"They've got the right but the question is whether that right has been exercised in a way that provides sufficient protection for ordinary citizens of Australia," he said.
Greens Senator Bob Brown also criticised the arrest, suggesting that pressure may have been applied by the United States government.
"The Howard government appears to be doing the Bush administration’s bidding. As far as I know, Mr Parkin has broken no Australian law. He was granted a visa to enter this country, so his arrest contradicts the government’s own assessment of his credentials,”
"It seems to have nothing to do with terrorism. The Howard Government will do whatever Washington asks of it and I am very concerned the request for his arrest came in the wake of information from Washington," Mr Brown said.
The government is currently calling for increased police powers ostensibly to protect the country from terrorists. Some groups are concerned that these powers will be used against critics of government policy.
"Our fears that these [Anti-terrorist] powers would be used against activists have been justified by yesterday's police action," said Kim Stewart.
Scott Parkin, on the day of his arrest, was due to give a workshop titled: Bringing Down The Pillars - People power strategies against war and capitalism. The workshop was sponsored by Forest Action Trust, Pt'chang Nonviolence Training Project, and Friends of the Earth Melbourne.
Greenpeace is providing legal help to Mr Parkin and advised that he had instructed his lawyers to appeal to the Migration Review Tribunal to review the basis on which his visa was withdrawn.
Danny Kennedy, Greenpeace campaigns director, said: "The burden of proof in the Scott Parkin expulsion case lies morally with the Commonwealth, to prove that he is a danger. When the Government brought in anti-terror legislation, they promised the public that these laws would only be used to confront a real and present risk of a terrorist attack, not a sweep-all approach against citizens. Peace is not terrorism. Peace is not a threat to national security. No democratic government should expel a foreign citizen because [it] opposes his political opinions."
Protests against the detention and deportation of Scott Parkin have taken place outside the Melbourne custody centre today, as well as in Sydney.