Australian prime minister says he is working effectively to free WikiLeaks founder

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says he is working in the “most effective way possible” to secure the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

Via AP news wire
Monday 22 May 2023 10:27 BST
Australia WikiLeaks
Australia WikiLeaks (AAP Image)

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he was working in the “most effective way possible” to secure the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but declined an invitation Monday to meet the Australian citizen’s wife.

Independent lawmaker Andrew Wilkie asked Albanese if he would meet Assange’s wife Stella Assange, who was watching Parliament from the public gallery. Albanese said a meeting with Stella Assange wouldn’t help her 51-year-old husband who is in a London prison fighting extradition to the United States.

“A priority for us isn’t doing something that is a demonstration, it’s actually doing something that produces an outcome,” Albanese told Parliament. “And that’s my focus, not grandstanding.”

Albanese was with U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Japan over the weekend for the Group of Seven leading industrial nations summit. Albanese did not say whether he had raised with either leader Australia’s position that Assange had been incarcerated for too long.

Albanese said he appreciated opposition leader Peter Dutton’s recent comments that he agreed with the government that Assange should be released.

“I’ve made it very clear to the U.S. administration and also to the U.K. administration of the Australian government’s view and I appreciate the fact that that is now a bipartisan view … that enough is enough,” Albanese said.

“Nothing is served from the ongoing incarceration of Julian Assange. What I have done … is to act in the most effective way possible,” he said. “What I have done is act diplomatically in order to maximize the opportunity that is there of breaking through an issue which has gone on for far too long."

But Albanese said the issue was not simple.

Assange has spent four years in Britain’s Belmarsh Prison fighting extradition. Before that, Assange had taken asylum for seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

Stella Assange used her first visit to Australia to address the National Press Club on Monday with her husband’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson.

The wife said her husband had spent 1,502 days behind bars under threat of extradition to the United States, where he faces a 175-year sentence on espionage charges.

“If Julian is extradited, he will be buried in the deepest, darkest hole of the U.S. prison system, isolated forever,” she said. “We must do everything we can to ensure that Julian never, ever sets foot in a U.S. prison."

Earlier this month, Albanese expressed frustration at the United States’ continuing efforts to extradite.

Albanese said Julian Assange’s case had to be examined in terms of whether the time he had “effectively served” was in excess of what would be “reasonable” if the allegations against him were proved.

Assange has battled in British courts for years to avoid being sent to the U.S., where he faces 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse that stem from WikiLeaks’ publication of a huge trove of classified documents in 2010.

American prosecutors allege he helped former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published, putting lives at risk.

To his supporters, Assange is a secrecy-busting journalist who exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Albanese said there was 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.

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