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New York: The US-Australia alliance faces a fresh test after Canberra politicians descended in Washington to demand the immediate release of Julian Assange and warned that his extradition would spark a backlash from America’s key AUKUS partner.
With the Wikileaks founder running out of options, Australian politicians from across the political aisle have met with members of Congress and officials from the State and Justice departments to call for Assange, an Australian citizen being held in London’s Belmarsh prison, to be sent home by Christmas.
Anthony Albanese, Julian Assange and Joe Biden.Credit:
“We’ve made it very clear that the continued prosecution of Julian Assange is not the action of a friend of Australia,” said Greens Senator David Shoebridge, who added that extradition would be “a blow to the relationship between Australia and the United States”.
“When you look at the charges that he faces, he’s effectively been charged with being a journalist.
“He has shared information which was gathered by a third party.
“Bradley Chelsea Manning has already been prosecuted for that and is already free. Yet, the journalist who shared the information has been hounded across the earth by the US administration.”
Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce addresses the media earlier this month during a press conference in Parliament about the visit to Washington Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
Shoebridge was joined in Washington by Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce, Liberal senator Alex Antic, Labor MP Tony Zappia, independent MP Monique Ryan and fellow Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson.
The trip was intended to raise the profile of Assange’s plight in the weeks leading up to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s first prime ministerial trip to Washington next month, where he will be granted a state dinner by US President Joe Biden.
“This side of the AUKUS partnership feels really strongly about this and so what we expect the prime minister to do is that he will carry the same message to President Biden when he comes in October,” said Ryan.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds up his Sydney Peace Prize after receiving the award in 2011.Credit: Reuters
“It’s a question of justice. These are political charges that are being pursued in a political way by the US government.”
Assange is facing a maximum jail sentence of 175 years after being charged with 17 counts of breaching the US Espionage Act plus a separate hacking-related charge.
The prosecution against him is in connection with WikiLeaks’ 2010 publication of cables detailing war crimes committed by the US government in the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention camp, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Albanese and Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong have previously said the case against Assange had gone on too long and needed to come to a conclusion, and Opposition leader Peter Dutton recently backed this position.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.Credit: Pool AFP
But although most Australians agree, the issue is likely to be politically sensitive for Biden as he heads towards an election next year, given many Democrats and Republicans believe Assange’s actions had placed lives at risk and that he ought to be punished.
“I understand the concerns and views of Australians,” US Secretary of State recently told reporters. “I think it’s very important that our friends here understand our concerns about this matter.”
Members of Congress that are meeting with the delegation include Republican Congressman Thomas Massie, Republican Senator Rand Paul and Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
Asked if the PM would raise the issue with Biden in October, Wong, who is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, replied: “We have raised this many times. For those who might have been at AUSMIN (the Australia–US Ministerial Consultations) Secretary Blinken and I both spoke about the fact that we had a discussion about the views that the United States has and the views that Australia has.
“We are consistent in our view that we think this has gone on too long, and the breadth of political representation on this delegation, I think, demonstrates there are a great many people in Australia who would like to see this matter resolved.”
However, the minister rejected the notion that the alliance would be tested if Assange was not released.
“I think the alliance has survived and continued to be strong through many decades and it will continue so to be.”
The Wikileaks founder also has an ally in Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who told the UN earlier in the week that Assange should not be prosecuted for informing the public.
“It is essential to preserve the freedom of the press. A journalist like Julian Assange cannot be punished for informing society in a transparent and legitimate way,” Lula said.
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