Australian court rejects activists’ free-speech plea

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Australia’s highest court has narrowly rejected the case of two Muslim activists who argued they had the constitutional right of free-speech to send offensive letters to families of Australian soldiers killed in ­Afghanistan.

Iranian-born Man Horan Monis, a Sydney cleric also known as Sheik Haron, was charged with 12 counts of using a postal service in an offensive way and one count of using a postal service in a harassing way for three years until 2009. Amirah Droudis was charged with aiding and abetting the offences. They face potential maximum prison sentences of 26 years and 16 years respectively if convicted.

The six high court judges yesterday were divided on whether the charges were compatible with Australians’ right to free speech. When the nation’s highest court is tied, an appeal is dismissed and the lower court decision stands.

That sends the charges to a lower court where they will be heard on a date to be decided.

Monis allegedly wrote letters critical of Australia’s military involvement in Afghanistan and condemning the dead soldiers. He also allegedly wrote to the mother of an Australian official killed in a terrorist bomb blast in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2009 and blaming government foreign policy for the tragedy.

His lawyer, David Bennett, argued in the High Court last year the letters were “purely political.” He argued the charges were invalid because they infringed on Australians’ right to freedom of political communication.

The pair had appealed the unanimous ruling of three judges in December 2011.