Australia should demand the freedom of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange by citing the precedent set when the United States pardoned others for revealing state secrets, former NSW premier and foreign minister Bob Carr has declared in a new call on his federal Labor colleagues.
The call sets out an argument for Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to persuade United States President Joe Biden to release Assange in the same way former president Barack Obama pardoned Chelsea Manning, who released classified information to Wikileaks while she was a US Army intelligence analyst.
Julian Assange greets supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2017. On Friday, the British government ordered his extradition to the US.Credit:AP
“Manning, the American who slipped the material to Assange, goes free while the Australian who published it faces extradition, trial in Virginia and the rest of his life in cruel confinement in a high-security prison, likely on the plains of Oklahoma,” Carr writes in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age today.
“In the context of Australia’s role as an ally – the heft we deliver for the US empire – a decision to let Assange walk free rates about five minutes of President Biden’s Oval Office attention.”
The argument comes after Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke said on Sunday that the government believed the case against Assange had gone on too long but did not want to “conduct diplomacy by megaphone” when it was engaged in conversations about the case.
“The issue needs to be brought to a close. Australia is not a party to the prosecution that’s happening here. Each country has its own legal system,” he told Sky News.
“We’ve been building constructive relationships again with our allies and they’re conversations that happen in government-to-government.”
Albanese told The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age at the weekend that he stood by comments he made last December as opposition leader when he said he could not see the purpose served by the continued pursuit of Assange.
The British Home Office announced on Friday that it would extradite Assange to the US after consideration by both the Magistrates Court and High Court. Assange’s legal team has 14 days to appeal the decision to the High Court and will do so while he remains in Belmarsh prison.
Debate over Assange has raged for more than a decade after WikiLeaks played a key role in revealing civilian deaths from US military activity in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as US diplomatic cables.
Critics of Assange have cited the release of nearly 20,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee in 2016, when Hilary Clinton was seeking to defeat Donald Trump in the US presidential election, to claim Assange was doing the work of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.
Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John said Assange should be immediately released.
“Extradition to the United States, the country whose war crimes Julian Assange exposed, sets a dangerous precedent for press freedom,” he said.
The Australian Doctors Reform Society has condemned the British government’s decision to extradite Assange, while Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard said the transfer to the US would send a “chilling” message to journalists all over the world.
South Australian Senator Rex Patrick also called on Albanese to step up the diplomatic efforts to pressure the US Government to drop its extradition plan.
“Three years on from his arrest for claimed espionage offences against the United States, the prosecution of Julian Assange poses a major threat to press freedom around the world,” said Senator Patrick, who ends his term in Parliament on June 30.
“The British Home Secretary’s decision to approve Mr Assange’s extradition to the United States is another step down a long road that can only lead to personal tragedy and a grave blow to media freedom worldwide.”
“The response of Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus is plainly inadequate and looks all too similar to the contemptibly weak line taken by their predecessors.
Independent MP Monique Ryan said it was time to bring Assange back to Australia when he was being punished overseas for speaking truth to power.
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