The thing about show trials is, they’re a bit fucking showy. The Australian writer Yang Hengjun, currently waiting to find out whether it suits the maximum panda Xi Jinping to have him shot in the back of the head, or tossed into some Xinjiang prison factory for twenty or thirty years, was dragged to his ‘secret’ trial in a heavy rubber biohazard suit.
Australian Ambassador, Graham Fletcher, was denied access to the trial on national security grounds.
It was all dementedly Orwellian and should have been embarrassing for the Chinese, except that the demented Orwellian theatre sports were the point. Yang Hengjun’s oppression was meant to be dramatically Brechtian and Ambassador Fletcher’s humiliation instructive – a demonstration of every single fuck the Chinese superstate could not give for the whining of a pissant little country with a smaller population than Shanghai.
Props to the Ambassador for turning up and trying to protect the interests of our adopted Vegemiter. But before we go swaddling ourselves in the delicious snuggie of self regard…
… perhaps we might contemplate our own episode of 1984-adjacent security theatre this week; the trial of Witness K.
(Also, quiet tip of Franz Kafka’s propellor beanie to whichever shenaniganista came up with idea of calling the former ASIS operative ‘K’.)
The parallels between ‘K’ and Yang Hengjun are so obvious they will have a lock on this year’s Nobel Prize for hermeneutics of the bleeding obvious. Two men, both former spies, both driven by conscience to speak against injustice and the dystopian trespasses of the national security state. Both of them brought to trial in proceedings that are nominally secret but also risibly performative. In Beijing, Yang Hengjun swelters inside a full biohazard suit, cut off from all human contact, and visibly designated the Other, the alien, the unclean. In Canberra, Witness K is likewise hidden from the citizens he is alleged to have betrayed, in this case by a makeshift arrangement of black screens, while journalists struggle like lowly ambassadors seeking admission to the court where ‘justice’ is to be done.
Christopher Knaus @knauscWe've been locked out of the proceedings this morning. The courts have even blacked out the glass door entrance to the court. Not sure what's going on inside or whether we can expect a sentencing hearing or a disputed facts hearing later today. Stay tuned. https://t.co/1tq8Mmxqs2
Narrator’s Voice: “Justice will not be done. Duh.”
Yang Hengjun was snatched up by a bunch of goons from the Ministry of State Security because the CCP aren’t quite ready to start openly abducting the ministers of foreign powers which offend them. His fate will depend entirely upon how deeply some future Australian PM kowtows in submissive veneration.
Witness K was arrested and charged ostensibly for revealing state secrets. What he actually revealed was the self evident truth that the then Coalition government were a despicable bunch of cunts.
It was Alexander Downer who, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, ordered ASIS to bug East Timor’s Cabinet Room and Prime Ministerial offices in 2004. ‘K’ led that operation.
Why did we turn the machinery of our secret intelligence service on a poor, defenceless and desperately vulnerable neighbour? Apparently to make a few extra quid off negotiations to divvy up gas and oil reserves beneath the Greater Sunrise field.
Australia’s national interest would have been better served by letting Timor Leste have the lot. What was spare change to us would have been a national treasure to them. The goodwill engendered would have been a better defence against the regional ambitions of Beijing than any number of unbuilt clunky French submarines. And we wouldn’t have revealed ourselves as the sort of massive anus-faced greedmonsters who could be trusted to do exactly the wrong thing just because we could.
“The strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must,” Thucydides told us two and a half thousand years ago.
He’d have recognised immediately what was happening at the trials of the two Australians, Yang Hengjun and Witness K.
The strong and the powerful getting away with it.
The small and the weak sucking it up.
The hammer will fall on Yang Hengjun any day now, and the usual suspects in Canberra will tuck into the all-you-can-eat buffet of freedom rhetoric and liberty fanwankling.
Then they’ll turn around and repeat almost word for word, Beijing’s talking points about the need to maintain national security and conduct all trials and levy all punishments in accordance with the law.
The only person you probably won’t hear from is Alexander Downer, who’s been very busy after leaving Parliament as an advisor to Woodside Petroleum.
You will, however, be shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn that Woodside, is one of the main beneficiaries of that treaty negotiated with Timor Leste under the watchful eyes of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.
They got to develop the Greater Sunrise field.
But it’s Witness K, who revealed the illegal intelligence operation which helped gift them that field, who was prosecuted.
Or persecuted, more accurately.
You can see why the government wanted this trial in secret, even if it affords Beijing an epically easy burn in reply to any criticism of their bullshit show trial of Yang Hengjun.
Yes, it is dementedly Orwellian and embarrassing, but that’s the point, innit. To prove that the strong do what they will and the weak will suffer what they must.
K, who had pleaded guilty, has been given a suspended three-month sentence in the Magistrates Court.
Christopher Knaus writes for The Guardian:
Magistrate Glenn Theakston… said the Witness K’s crime was not “trivial”, but rather a “express, deliberate breach of the defendant’s obligations to maintain the secrecy of the operations of Asis”.
The court heard Witness K was now elderly, aged above 70, and was suffering physical health problems, as well as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal ideation.
Theakston found his mental health issues were connected with his offending, and reduced his culpability.
“I can’t help but find his moral culpability is reduced,” he said.
Theakston said Witness K was not motivated by personal gain. Nor was he attempting to blackmail anyone.
The disclosures were made in affidavits intended to be used in the permanent court of arbitration, where Timor-Leste had accused Australia of negotiating in bad faith by using espionage.
Witness K, Theakston said, was acting in to achieve “justice” and had an “intention to participate in the rules-based order”.
I wonder if Smirko will appeal the ‘leniency’ of the sentence.