Australia's prime minister stands firm against the US on WikiLeaks founder's prosecution

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his government is standing firm against the United States over the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

Rod McGuirk
Tuesday 01 August 2023 09:45 BST

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Tuesday his government stands firm against the United States over the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, an Australian citizen fighting extradition from Britain on U.S. espionage charges.

Albanese’s center-left Labor Party government has been arguing since winning the 2022 elections that the United States should end its pursuit of the 52-year-old, who has spent four years in a London prison fighting extradition.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed back against the Australian position during a visit Saturday, saying Assange was accused of “very serious criminal conduct” in publishing a trove of classified U.S. documents more than a decade ago.

“I understand the concerns and views of Australians. I think it’s very important that our friends here understand our concerns about this matter,” Blinken told reporters.

On Tuesday, Albanese said, “This has gone on for too long. Enough is enough."

He told reporters that Blinken’s public comments echoed points made by President Joe Biden’s administration during private discussions with Australian government officials.

“We remain very firm in our view and our representations to the American government and we will continue to do so,” Albanese added.

Assange, whose freedom is widely seen as a test of Australia’s leverage with the Biden administration, was discussed in annual bilateral meetings Brisbane, Australia, last week between Blinken and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

Wong told reporters Saturday that Australia wanted the charges “brought to a conclusion.” Australia remains ambiguous about whether the U.S. should drop the prosecution or strike a plea deal.

Assange faces 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic and military documents in 2010. American prosecutors allege he helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published, putting lives at risk.

Australia argues there is a disconnect between the U.S. treatment of Assange and Manning. Then-U.S. President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s 35-year sentence to seven years, which allowed her release in 2017.

Assange has been in high-security Belmarsh Prison since he was arrested in 2019 for skipping bail during a separate legal battle. Before that, he spent seven years inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault. Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in 2019 because so much time had passed.

Last week, Assange's brother, Gabriel Shipton, called for Australia to increase pressure on the United States.

“Each day the U.S. administration ignores the Australian public on Julian’s freedom, it becomes clearer and clearer Australia’s true standing in the alliance,” Shipton said, referring to a bilateral security treaty signed in 1951.

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