John Zhang | Australian court upholds laws against foreign interference

Australia’s Attorney-General Michaelia Cash

A Chinese-born political adviser yesterday lost his challenge in Australia’s highest court against laws banning covert foreign interference in domestic politics.
John Zhang Shi Sheng also lost his High Court challenge in a unanimous decision of seven judges to the validity of search warrants executed by police at his Sydney home and offices last year as part of an investigation into illegal foreign interference on behalf of China.
Zhang was an adviser to New South Wales state lawmaker Shaoquett Moselmane, whose membership in the opposition Labor Party was suspended after he was also the target of police raids.
The raids in June 2020 were the first police investigation to grab public attention since the foreign interference laws came into force in 2018 and the government bolstered funding to security agencies in late 2019 to enforce them.
Chen Hong, director of East China Normal University’s Australian Studies Center, wrote in the Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party English-language, after the raids that Moselmane “unfortunately fell prey to the anti-China hysteria in Australia.”
Zhang, a 63-year-old Australian citizen who immigrated from China in 1989, had asked the High Court to rule the foreign interference laws were invalid because they infringed on his freedom of political communication implied in the Australian Constitution.
He had also asked the court to quash the search warrants and to order that evidence seized or copied by police be returned or destroyed.
His case argued the foreign interference law was invalid and that the warrant did not precisely identify the substance of the offenses.
Police seized phones, computers and other electronic devices from Zhang. The warrants allege that Zhang engaged with Moselmane “through a private social media chat group and other fora … to advance the interests and policy goals of a foreign principal,” the Chinese government.
Part of the conduct was “covert” because it involved communications over an encrypted private social media chat group, the warrants said.
Lawyers for Attorney General Michaelia Cash had argued in court that “covert” could be read as “involving some element of nefarious concealment or secrecy.”
The offense carries a potential maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. MDT/AP

Categories China