Australia bans travel to Syrian province al-Raqqa

AP News
Posted: Dec 04, 2014 12:54 AM

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia's foreign minister used tough new counterterrorism laws Thursday to make it a criminal offense for Australians to travel to the Syrian province of al-Raqqa because of the Islamic State movement's hold on the war-ravaged region.

The province is the first region in the world to be subjected to such a travel ban under the legislation.

The Australian Parliament passed a raft of legislation in October designed to make it easier to prosecute Australians who fight with militants in Syria and Iraq and then return home. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was given powers to designate regions as terrorist hotspots where travel was banned unless legitimate reasons can be proved.

"I have today declared al-Raqqa province an area where a listed terrorist organization is engaging in hostile activity," Bishop told Parliament.

"This now makes it an offence under Australian law to enter or remain in the province of al-Raqqa without a legitimate reason," she added, warning that a conviction carried a potential 10-year prison sentence.

Critics have argued that the laws are too draconian and effectively reverse the onus of proof under Australian law so that defendants now have to prove their innocence.

Bishop said she cancelled 75 passports and refused to issue another 10 to prevent extremists from leaving Australia to fight in conflicts.