The Nauruan police force has seized phones and laptops from Save the Children staff and other contractors in an attempt to hunt down journalistsâ€™ sources at the Australian run detention centre.
On Saturday police officers executed a search warrant at one of the administration blocks in RPC1 and took personal electronic items that belonged to a number of detention staff.
A number of the electronic items seized belonged to Save the Children staff, but some also belonged to others contracted with the detention centre.
The tactics are a major escalation by the Nauruan government in attacks on whistleblowers at the detention centre. The Nauruan government initiated the seizures after it was angered by a Guardian Australia report that disclosed an email from the Nauru operations manager, Berilyn Jeremiah, about allowing local journalists into the detention centre.
It is unclear what the legal basis for the seizures are, and what offence the Nauru police believe may have been committed. A spokeswoman for Australiaâ€™s immigration department said it had no role in the raids, and referred questions to the Nauru police force.
A Save the Children spokeswoman said in a statement: â€œSave the Children staff have a history of behaving with great integrity, compassion and professionalism in their work on Nauru supporting vulnerable children and families and we fully expect this to apply to all aspects of our service delivery, including obligations to maintain confidentiality.
â€œWe have no reason to believe that our staff have acted inappropriately, but we are of course assisting the Nauru police force with its inquiries. As always, our priority remains working to mitigate the harmful impacts of offshore immigration detention, to the extent that the circumstances allow.â€
The revelations about the raids follow repeated concerns about the ability of staff to speak out at the Australian run detention centre. On Tuesday the United Nations special rapporteur for freedom of expression, David Kaye, said Australia was â€œchipping awayâ€ at rights and freedoms in the crackdown on asylum seeker reporting.
Previously reports from Guardian Australia and other news outlets have been referred to the Australian federal police by the immigration department for investigation with a view to prosecuting their sources.
The federal government â€“ with the support of Labor â€“ introduced a further offence under the Australian Border Force Act that could see public interest disclosures further criminalised.
Another Senate inquiry has been established to investigate conditions at both the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres, and to provide an outlet for whistleblowers under the protection of parliamentary privilege.