Sydney: The Australian government said on Wednesday that it would not grant a visa to Chelsea Manning, a former US soldier sentenced to prison for sharing classified government documents, because she failed a character test required for entry.
Manning was scheduled to conduct a speaking tour of Australia through September, beginning with an appearance on Sunday at the Sydney Opera House with US journalists Ronan Farrow, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Maureen Dowd.
On Wednesday, Manning said she would “work it out,” reported Guardian Australia, and the group organising the event said it would push for her to be allowed into the country.
“We are very disappointed to learn that the Department of Home Affairs has taken this approach and will be vigorously advocating for her ability to enter Australia,” Think Inc., the event’s organiser, said in statement on Thursday.
The department, in a notice sent on Wednesday to Manning, wrote that she did not pass the character test required for entry into Australia because of her “substantial criminal record.”
In 2013, Manning, then known as Bradley Manning, was found guilty of leaking more than 700,000 classified government documents to WikiLeaks, including reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and dossiers on detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
She received a 35-year sentence for violating the Espionage Act, but after serving seven years, her sentence was commuted in 2017 by then-President Barack Obama in one of his last acts before leaving office. Soon after her sentencing, Manning announced she was transgender and would begin her transition to becoming a woman.
A divisive figure who is seen by some as a whistle-blower and others as a traitor, Manning has encountered pushback over other speaking engagements. She declined one at Harvard University after criticism prompted the dean to revoke a fellowship offer there.
Suzi Jamil, Think Inc.’s president, called on the Australian government to reconsider its decision.
“We hope that the minister for Home Affairs and his department will not stand in the way of the Australian people hearing Ms. Manning’s story,” she said in a statement, citing the need for people “to hear about vital issues around data privacy, artificial intelligence and transgender rights.”
In a statement on Thursday, the Department of Home Affairs said it did not comment on individual cases.
The news comes as questions have emerged over a decision by the former minister of immigration, Peter Dutton, to use his discretionary powers and grant tourist visas to three au pairs after they were to be deported. Dutton has denied any improper actions.
On Thursday, Penny Wong, a lawmaker for the opposition, called for an explanation from the government, saying the action seemed “inconsistent,” on Radio National.
The Australian government has cancelled visas or prevented entry of other notable public figures, including singer Chris Brown, rapper Snoop Dogg, and David Irving, a Holocaust denier.
But those critical of the government’s actions have pointed to recent visits from contentious figures like Lauren Southern, a far-right Canadian commentator, and Milo Yiannopoulos, a right-wing British commentator.
Conservative politicians in New Zealand have also called for Manning to be banned from entering that country, where she is slated to speak next month.
“This is a convicted felon, sentenced to 35 years in jail, coming in here for money,” Michael Woodhouse, a former minister of immigration for the National Party, told the news site Stuff.
“She is wanting to be hailed as a hero for stealing military secrets and state secrets.”