Thursday, 18 March 2021
Assange, Mr Julian Paul
Julian Assange is an Australian citizen. He's never been convicted of any crime, yet he's been locked up and confined for years now, facing extradition to the USA and an effective death sentence on trumped up, politically motivated charges. Two months ago a UK court found, on humanitarian and health grounds, that he should not be extradited to the USA. Yet still, today, bail is being withheld and Julian is locked up and isolated in a maximum security UK prison with murderers and rapists, at risk of death from COVID-19 because of his health conditions. His health continues to deteriorate.
As the Labor leader has said clearly, this has gone on for long enough. The Prime Minister and his do-nothing foreign minister need to act now to bring Julian Assange home and prevent his extradition to the USA. His health and his life depend on it. As the UK court found, if Assange is extradited to the US, he'll face extreme isolation for 175 years, and charges carrying the death penalty can be laid the minute he's on US soil. No national security defendant has ever succeeded in the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Assange would be buried alive in the US justice system. Ironically, he would be treated worse than those responsible for America's war crimes in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, which he and WikiLeaks exposed. Should he even survive, his case would circle the US justice system for years and decades, as lawyers, academics and judges argued over whether the cherished First Amendment rights even extended to him.
At the heart of this matter is a broken man, an Australian whose health is failing and who needs to come home. For years now, the Morrison government has used weasel words to avoid responsibility, but the persecution of Julian Assange must end now. President Obama commuted Chelsea Manning's sentence—the person who provided the material revealing war crimes—yet Assange, the publisher, is still in jail. With the right diplomacy, the Biden administration could conclude this immediately. The US is currently appealing the court's verdict, which could take months or years more. Australia must now ask our close ally and friend to accept the British court's decision and just drop the prosecution. Friends and allies must speak frankly with one another when our shared values are at risk. The treatment of Assange corrupts our alliance with the US and makes a mockery of the UK's justice system and international law. The British court's recent decision was the right decision for the wrong reasons, made on very narrow health and humanitarian grounds. As the court said:
… the mental condition of Mr. Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.
The judgement should be concerning for any person who is worried about human rights and the rule of law. The Prime Minister has mouthed a recent interest in the rule of law over the past week. If he seriously cares about the rule of law, he could show it by bringing Julian Assange home.
Political crimes should never form the basis of extradition requests, and this case is inherently political. It is designed to mute whistleblowers and investigative journalists globally. As the defence in the case said, it 'poses fundamental threats to the freedom of press throughout the world' and is 'a flagrant denial of his right to freedom of expression'. I don't personally agree with everything that Julian Assange or WikiLeaks have done, but that is not, and must never be, the point. People should not be prosecuted for their political beliefs. People should not be prosecuted for engaging in journalistic activities. Publishing embarrassing classified footage of war crimes in Iraq is journalistic activity and behaviour. It is astonishing to me that a UK court failed to see through the brazenly political nature of this prosecution. On almost every point, the judge agreed with the US government's arguments. In my view, this case has now set a dangerous precedent for others around the world, because, under the court's logic, anyone anywhere in the world who publishes anything embarrassing to the US government could be extradited to the United States.
The judge's verdict has given the US what they sought. This situation now needs a political resolution, not a legal one. The Australian government must speak up for our citizen, not keep hiding behind their talking points about legal process and having his day in court. It doesn't matter if you agree with him. It doesn't matter if you like him or dislike him. Julian Assange is an Australian with the same rights as you or me, and he's entitled to the protection of his government. I call on government to do the right thing and save this man.