Australian human rights lawyer and WikiLeaks supporter Jennifer Robinson appears to have been placed on a travel watch list and was prevented from leaving the UK this morning until approval was secured from the Australian High Commission.

Robinson was returning to Australia to speak at the same conference as Attorney-General Nicola Roxon tomorrow — the Commonwealth Lawyers’ Association’s Regional Law Conference — on the apt subject of “Lawyers in the firing line”. Roxon is giving an address on human rights.

Robinson was stopped when checking in at Heathrow early this morning Australian time and told she was an “inhibited person” and that approval from the Australian High Commission would be needed before she was allowed to proceed. She tweeted

Security guard: “you must have done something controversial” because we have to phone the embassy. “Certain government agencies” list.

Intriguingly, however, no Australian agency uses the term “inhibited person”. A DIAC spokesman told Crikey “the only mechanism that would restrict uplift of a person to Australia is the Movement Alert List (MAL).”

The government doesn’t discuss who is on the MAL, but it is understood it would be highly unusual for an Australian to be on the MAL.

This raises the possibility that, in spite of what she was told, Robinson was stopped not at the behest of an Australian agency but a foreign agency. In December, Robinson was in the US to monitor the pre-trial hearing of Bradley Manning and was sharply critical of the conduct of the hearing. In January, she confronted US Attorney-General Eric Holder about the Obama administration’s treatment of WikiLeaks when both of them attended the Sundance Film Festival.

Robinson is currently en route to Hong Kong before travelling on to Sydney, where she is scheduled to arrive tomorrow morning.

A short time ago DFAT issued the following statement to Crikey:

“We are not aware of any Australian Government restriction applying to Ms Robinson’s travel. As an Australian with a valid passport, she would be free to return to Australia at any stage. The UK border authorities or airline of travel may be able to provide further insight on claims that she was impeded from boarding her flight.”

The DFAT statement is a reference to the fact that airlines themselves may stop people from boarding if they believe they may not be permitted to enter their destination country, leaving the airline with the cost of returning them to their point of departure. As Robinson is an Australian, however, this clearly would not have applied to her.

Crikey is seeking comment from the UK Border Agency.