Australian MPs travel to US to call for end to pursuit of Julian Assange extradition

WikiLeaks founder in the midst of appealing UK’s decision to agree to extradite him

Namita Singh
Tuesday 05 September 2023 09:59 BST

Related video: Extradition of Julian Assange approved by UK judge

A cross-party delegation of six Australian lawmakers will travel to the US this month to push for an end to the pursuit of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The US has called for the extradition of Julian Assange, an Australian citizen, after his website WikiLeaks published thousands of US government documents in 2010, which included a cache of military records and diplomatic files, some of which were classified.

Detained in Britain’s Belmarsh prison for the last four years, Mr Assange is in the midst of appealing the UK’s decision to agree to US extradition.

The Australian delegation, including former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, is scheduled to travel to the US ahead of a visit by Anthony Albanese to the White House in October.

The trip, funded by the Assange campaign, will also include Liberal senator Alex Antic, independent MP Monique Ryan, Labor MP Tony Zappia and Greens senators David Shoebridge and Peter Whish-Wilson, reported The Guardian.

Revealing their intention to the press in Canberra today, the MPs said they timed their trip for maximum impact as the prime minister prepares for his own trip.

The delegation is expected to meet members of the US Congress and Senate, along with officials at the State and Justice departments as well as think-tanks American Civil Liberties Union and Reporter Without Borders.

While Washington has previously maintained that the release of secret documents by Mr Assange put the lives of those serving in Afghanistan and Iraq in danger, his supporters claim the Wikileaks founder is being victimised for exposing wrongdoings by the US.

Mr Assange’s brother and Chair of the Assange Campaign organisation, Gabriel Shipton, said the vast majority of Australians did not understand why the US continued to demand his extradition.

“Australians see the US as our closest ally... but right now, Julian is being held hostage by a vengeful US administration and it’s damaging US-Australian relations,” he said in a statement.

Greg Barns, a human rights lawyer and campaign adviser for Mr Assange, said the majority of Australians believe the pursuit of the WikiLeaks founder should come to an end.

“That can only happen if the US Department of Justice drops its extradition bid at once,” he said.

It is “not an ordinary run-of-the-mill extradition case,” Mr Barns told The Guardian and discussed the freedom of expression for journalists.

“You’ve got China chasing journalists around the world, and you’ve got the Russians who have recently arrested journalists,” Mr Barns said.

“You’ve now got China using the Assange case as a sort of moral equivalence argument. So the message [of the Australian delegation] is going to be: this is very dangerous for journalists around the world and a race to the bottom that’s going on.”

Mr Assange’s brother Mr Shipton said Australians had had a “gutful”.

“The vast majority of Australians can’t understand why the US continues to act in a way that keeps Julian locked up in one of the worst prisons in the UK,” he said.

“Even Australians who didn’t support Julian’s actions believe he has suffered enough and should be set free immediately.”

Mr Shipton also offered an update on Mr Assange’s health. “He’s doing OK, all things considered,” he said.

Earlier in May, Mr Albanese also expressed his frustration over a lack of diplomatic solution on Assange’s detention.

Support for him remains low among US policymakers, however, with only a few members of Congress demanding the charges be dropped against Mr Assange.

If extradited, he faces a sentence of 175 years in prison.

Additional reporting by agencies

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