House debates

Thursday, 18 June 2020


Assange, Mr Julian

4:29 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Julian Assange is an Australian citizen and was born in Townsville in 1971. He is the founder of WikiLeaks and an award-winning journalist. For the last decade, he has been in confinement or in prison in England. In 2010, WikiLeaks published US government information and documents allegedly provided by US Army officer Chelsea Manning. The US government allege that Assange was a party to the hacking of its IT system, therefore violating the US Espionage Act of 1917, and is attempting to extradite him from England to the USA on charges of conspiracy to receive, obtain and disclose classified information.

In 2010, Sweden also sought to extradite Assange from England to Sweden to face alleged rape charges. In the course of those proceedings, Assange breached bail and sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in England, where he was granted protection until April 2019. On 11 April, on leaving the embassy, he was arrested by English police for breaching bail and sentenced to 50 weeks jail. After more than 60 weeks, he is still in prison. In November 2019, the Swedish government closed their rape case against Assange. The US extradition case commenced on 24 February this year. The case was scheduled to resume on 18 May but has now been pushed out until September.

On the latest figures that I have seen, over 400,000 people have now signed a petition calling for Assange's freedom. A widely held view is that the USA failed to secure its IT system and that its wrongdoings, covert operations and war crimes were publicly and embarrassingly exposed. So, under the protection of national security being breached and lives being endangered, the US wants to make an example of Assange—that exposing US secrets will not be tolerated.

New revelations about the war crimes where 11 civilians, including two journalists, were killed in Baghdad in July 2007 were recently exposed by The Guardian. Furthermore, there is no evidence that any lives were put at risk by the WikiLeaks revelations. It is also worth noting that Assange is not a US citizen and was not in the USA when the hacking occurred. The USA is attempting to extend its internal laws to overseas jurisdictions while simultaneously denying Assange protection under the first amendment that US citizens would be otherwise entitled to, which brings me to Assange's treatment in England.

Assange is in Belmarsh prison for breaching bail in relation to a case that has been dropped. So, had there been no case, there would have been no bail and, logically, no breach. Just as extraordinarily, Assange was harshly being kept in solitary confinement for breach of bail—what others might consider to be a penalty that is much harsher than would be normally expected. He wasn't a criminal who presented a threat to others in any way. It took a revolt by other prisoners for his prison conditions to be eased. His appearance in court earlier this year was in a cage with restricted access even to his lawyers, which I would have thought would be totally against the legal system.

Assange is not an English citizen—which gives rise to concerns about his treatment, the process and his wellbeing—nor has Assange been the only publisher of WikiLeaks material for which he is being pursued. As an Australian citizen, Julian Assange should be provided with Australian diplomatic support the same as any other Australian who finds themselves in a similar situation overseas. He should be returned to Australia and, if the US government want to extradite him, they should apply to an Australian court under Australian law where the principles of justice, as enshrined in clause 29 of the 1215 Magna Carta, still hold true.

The Julian Assange case is a test of Western democracy and the values that millions of lives have been lost defending. I refer to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to know, upholding the Geneva convention, the rules of military engagement and the universal human rights of all people.