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Jennifer Robinson Scandal: Was the Wikileaks Lawyer Detained For Political Reasons?

An illegitimate immigration incident involving Jennifer Robinson, the Australian lawyer for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, occurred at London's Heathrow Airport late on April 18.

Jennifer Robinson was informed that she could not board a plane to Australia until she was cleared by the Australian High Commission. Using Twitter, she informed her followers: “Just delayed from checking in at LHR because I'm apparently ‘inhibited’ — requiring approval from Australia House to travel.” Robinson added that an immigration security guard told her: “You must have done something controversial because we have to phone the embassy.”

A few days prior, Robinson had met her client, Assange, and Wikileaks had tweeted out “Jennifer Robinson met with Assange on Monday ... Australian watchlist incident Wednesday.” A decision is expected any day on Assange's appeal against being extradited to Sweden. From that country, he may be extradited to the U.S., where he was indicted by a secret grand jury in December 2010 on charges under the Espionage Act of 1917.

Robinson is a London-based human rights lawyer. She has acted in numerous high-profile free speech cases. Her work in West Papua and Indonesia during her studies at the Australian National University strengthened her interest in human rights, and she continues to advocate for the rights of West Papuans through her work with International Lawyers for West Papua.

Additional speculation is being expressed in legal circles about the Heathrow incident. Robinson's involvement with the case of Bradley Manning in the U.S. — the soldier alleged to have leaked secret U.S. cables to WikiLeaks — and her involvement with human rights cases in Indonesia's province of West Papua are suspected factors.

Robinson finally arrived in Sydney Friday morning. She has clarified that no call was made from Heathrow to Australia’s House, despite Virgin Airlines staff insisting she was an “inhibited person” and that approval was required before she could be checked-in.

Inhibited person” is not a term used by Australian agencies. New rules, accepted by the UK in March, require airlines to submit passengers' personal data to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Then the information is checked against a “No Fly” list. Airlines are required to provide DHS with details of passengers even if they were not travelling to the United States, but to countries near the U.S., such as Canada, Mexico and Cuba.

However, Robinson was flying to Australia. That raises concern over a politically-motivated attempt to hinder the WikiLeaks lawyers in their work. Article 18 of the UN Principles on the Role of Lawyers sets out clearly that “lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions.” The freedom of individuals to access the court is now threatened by this legal overstretch.

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