Australia's foreign minister has invoked tough new anti-terrorism powers to make it a criminal offence for nationals to travel to the Syrian province of Raqqa because of the Islamic State (IS) movement's hold on the war-torn region.
The province has become the first region in the world to be subjected to such a travel ban. Going to or remaining in the province is an offence that carries a potential 10-year prison sentence for Australians, Julie Bishop told parliament today.
Canberra passed a raft of legislation in October to make it easier to prosecute Australians who fight with militants in Syria and Iraq and then return home. Ms Bishop was given powers to designate regions as terrorist hotspots where travel was banned unless legitimate reasons could be proved.
"I have today declared al-Raqqa province an area where a listed terrorist organisation is engaging in hostile activity," she told MPs.
"This now makes it an offence under Australian law to enter or remain in the province of al-Raqqa without a legitimate reason."
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.
Ms Bishop said she cancelled 75 passports and refused to issue another 10 to prevent extremists from leaving Australia to fight in conflicts.