Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Statements by Senators

Assange, Mr Julian Paul

1:01 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] Last week an Australian Walkley Award-winning journalist sat in a UK court in a glass cage, crawling on his knees in order to speak to his lawyers. He'd lost a lot of weight since he was last seen. Watching on, journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger recounted that man telling him, 'I think I'm losing my mind.' That man was Julian Assange. Last week saw the conclusion of Julian Assange's extradition hearing in London. Over four weeks, many of the world's most celebrated journalists, publishers, lawyers and doctors presented evidence, finally setting the historic record straight on many issues.

I would like to pay my respects to Senator Wong for her contribution on Ruth Bader Ginsburg. While she was speaking, I couldn't help thinking, 'What would Justice Ginsburg think of this trial of Julian Assange for extradition to her country, the United States?' The judge in the UK will make a decision on 4 January next year. Until then Julian Assange remains in Belmarsh prison, a prison built for murderers and terrorists, which is no place for this softly spoken Australian publisher who, to many people, is a revolutionary and a hero of our age.

What did the court hear? First, the court heard that the prosecution of Assange and WikiLeaks is, quite simply, political. The Obama administration had ruled out prosecution, but, as Australian lawyer Jennifer Robinson testified, the Trump administration—and this is the guy who has just had a Facebook post deleted for containing false information about COVID—offered Assange a pardon if he revealed his sources for the DNC leak. When Assange refused—because, no matter what, journalists and publishers don't reveal their sources—the prosecution came down on Assange like a tonne of bricks. The judge agreed to bring her decision down after the US election. How much more political can this possibly be?

Second, the court heard of the spying operation conducted against Assange by UC Global on behalf of US intelligence agencies, which was especially focused on his meetings with his lawyers—clearly a breach of protocol around client-lawyer privilege. The court also heard about the seizure by the FBI of legally privileged information from the Embassy of Ecuador. The court heard of plans to poison and kidnap this Australian citizen. This is totally outrageous! Basically it means he cannot get a fair trial. This is a show trial, a farce. Any statements from our government giving assurance about due process are simply empty in the face of this outrageous and shameful breach of process by US authorities—our ally and friend the United States.

Third, the court heard about the devastating health consequences Assange is suffering, which would finish him if he were extradited to the extreme isolation and deprivation of special administrative measures in the horrific US prison system.

Fourth, the court heard three days of evidence by senior and award-winning journalists that Assange and WikiLeaks engaged in journalistic activity, including meticulous redaction processes. One-third of the Afghan war logs were withheld to protect individuals named. A nine-month curation process occurred with respect to the diplomatic cables, which were only fully revealed because two Guardian journalists inadvertently published the password in a book. So no, WikiLeaks doesn't dump materials online, and yes, Assange took great care to protect the names of sources. Three days of evidence provided great detail to that effect to the UK court.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge my fellow Tasmanian Dean Yates, who was the head of the Reuters Baghdad bureau at the time of Collateral Murder, that now infamous video of an Apache helicopter gunning down Iraqi civilians and Reuters journalists. It was a potential war crime that has never been followed up. Mr Yates provided evidence of what this meant to him and the process he went through with the US military to get justice for his colleagues.

Fifth, harm was not done by WikiLeaks, but enormous harm was revealed by WikiLeaks. The court heard evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and corruption and that the US still cannot provide any evidence of the harm brought about by WikiLeaks.

Finally, technical computer forensic evidence demolished the central accusations in the indictment that Julian Assange was aiding Chelsea Manning or conspiring to procure documents. Patrick Eller, a digital forensic expert employed for two decades by the US army, reminded the court that the prosecution had failed entirely to tender any proof of Assange's involvement in chat logs with Manning. There simply isn't any forensic evidence.

We know these details of the trial thanks to Australian journalists like Mary Kostakidis and Andrew Fowler, who are part of a small group of journalists given access to video feed. Mary tweeted late into the night for four weeks, reporting in intricate detail so that we would know what was going on in this process—this sham of a process—that has not demonstrated the principles of open justice at all. In fact, on the first day, the judge revoked permission that had been granted for nearly 40 NGOs and parliamentarians to monitor the trial.

I am proud to be a founding member of the Parliamentary Friends of the Bring Julian Assange Home Group, a group that now has members from the crossbench and the Labor Party in both the House and the Senate, but still has failed to get a single LNP member of parliament to join, whereas I know from my private discussions there are a number of LNP members who are very concerned about this issue. I take that back: I should say the group has failed to get a single Liberal Party member of parliament to join; there are indeed two National Party members of that group, who are doing a great job advocating for the release of Julian Assange and bringing Julian Assange home. I'm proud to be part of that group.

During the hearing our co-chairs met with the UK High Commissioner, who gave them a good hearing and assured them that she would report their exchange and information and our serious concerns to London. During the four weeks of the hearing, hundreds of protests and vigils happened all over the world, with the presence of large protests outside the court every day. A dozen councils across Australia have passed resolutions calling on our government to act. During the trial over 160 world leaders, current and former presidents, prime ministers and officials called for Julian Assange's release. Thousands of journalists, hundreds of doctors, the third-biggest petition ever tabled in this parliament and a growing chorus from the margins to the centre of media, from the right and left of politics in Australia, all agree that Assange must not be extradited.

What was on trial in London was the fate of press freedom and national security journalism. If a precedent is set that allows the US to assert its laws outside the US, the world will never be the same again. While our press freedom is on trial, so, too, is an Australian. We must bring Julian Assange home.