1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Australia uncovers Iran spying operation against protester

February 14, 2023

Canberra says the target was a dual Iranian-Australian citizen who had joined anti-Iran government protests in Australia. The home affairs minister wants to do more to tackle foreign interference.

Minister for Home Affairs Clare O'Neil
Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil revealed the news during a speech at the Australia National University (ANU)Image: Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images

Australia has discovered an Iranian surveillance operation targeting a dual Iranian-Australian citizen who had joined protests in Australia following the death of Jina Mahsa Amini, Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil said on Tuesday.

The allegations of spying by Iran comes amid a crackdown on anti-government protests across Iran that have shaken the Islamic Republic in a way comparable to the revolution that brought the regime to power 44 years ago.

"It is perfectly legal for anyone in Australia to criticize a foreign regime, as tens of thousands of people across the country have been doing in response to events in Iran," O'Neil said in a speech to the Australian National University's (ANU) national security college.

"What we absolutely will not tolerate, under any circumstances, are attempts by foreign regimes to disrupt peaceful protests, encourage violence or suppress views."

Canberra says it bust the spying operation

The minister did not provide any details about the surveillance operation, but said that it had included "extensive research" on the individual "and their family."

O'Neil added that Australia's own agencies "were on it like a shot."

"We're not going to stand back and have Australians or indeed visitors to our country, watched and tracked by foreign governments on our soil."

Iran protests reverberate around the world

She went on to call for a "national conversation" on the issue and said she had tasked Australia's own spy agencies with coming up with programs for those communities most likely to be targeted by foreign actors.

"Because we don't just need to disrupt these operations, but deter future ones by imposing costs on their sponsor through outing them, where possible to do so," she said.

Universities targeted in particular

O'Neil did not refer to China in her speech, but a 2018 law against foreign interference came with allegations of Chinese involvement in Australian politics and universities by then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

O'Neil did, however, refer to the particular interest in Australia's universities.

"It should be no secret or surprise the university sector is a target of foreign interference," she said.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) "has stated that foreign intelligence services and their proxies 'are all too willing to take advantage of the openness that is integral to our universities and research institutions to steal intellectual property and cutting-edge technologies,'" she added.

ab/jsi (Reuters, AFP, dpa)