Australia PM says no point in US’s continued pursuit of Assange

The WikiLeaks founder has been in a UK jail for years as he fights extradition to the US on charges including espionage.

Protesters outside Britain's parliament call for Julian Assange's release. One is dressed as the Statue of Liberty and carrying a placard reading Free Julian Assange Now!
Julian Assange's supporters say he is a free speech hero who exposed US wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan [File: Alberto Pezzali/AP Photo]

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has expressed frustration at the United States’s continuing efforts to extradite WikiLeaks founder and Australian citizen Julian Assange who has been in a high-security United Kingdom prison for the past four years as he fights the case.

Albanese, who is in the UK for King Charles III’s coronation, said he was frustrated there had not yet been a diplomatic resolution to the issue and concerned about the mental health of the now 51-year-old.

“There is nothing to be served by his ongoing incarceration,” Albanese told the ABC in an interview on Friday.

Albanese said Assange’s case had to be examined in terms of whether the time he had “effectively served” was more than a “reasonable” sentence if the allegations against him were proved.

“I just say that enough is enough,” Albanese said.

“I know it’s frustrating, I share the frustration. I can’t do more than make very clear what my position is and the US administration is certainly very aware of what the Australian government’s position is,” he added.

Assange, an Australian citizen, has spent years battling in UK courts to prevent his extradition to the US, where he is wanted on criminal charges including espionage over the release of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables in 2010.

He was initially arrested in London that year following accusations of sexual assault in Sweden and two years later the UK’s Supreme Court ruled he should be extradited to Sweden to face those charges.

Assange then broke bail to hole up in Ecuador’s embassy in London where he sought asylum.

UK police forcibly removed him from the embassy in 2019 and the offer of asylum was withdrawn. Sweden eventually dropped the rape charges but the extradition process over the leaks continued.

The UK approved his extradition in June last year, saying the courts had “not found that it would be oppressive, unjust or an abuse of process” to do so. However, it said Assange could appeal, which he did.

Assange’s supporters say he is an anti-establishment hero who has been victimised because he exposed US wrongdoing in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that his prosecution is a politically motivated assault on journalism and free speech.

US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who was accused of stealing the classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published, was jailed for 35 years for her role in the leak, but the sentence was commuted to seven years by then-US President Barack Obama and she was released in 2017.

Albanese said previously he has advocated for Assange in meetings with officials of US President Joe Biden.

On Friday, he declined to say whether he would raise the issue with Biden when Albanese hosts the US leader along with leaders of India and Japan in Sydney on May 24.

“The way that diplomacy works … is probably not to forecast the discussions that you will have, or have had with leaders of other nations,” Albanese said. “I’ll engage diplomatically in order to achieve an outcome.”

Albanese said he did not want to get into an argument about whether Assange’s alleged actions were right or wrong.

Originally, a UK judge ruled that Assange should not be deported, saying his mental health problems meant he would be at risk of suicide if convicted.

That decision was overturned on appeal after the US gave a package of assurances, including a promise Assange could be transferred to Australia to serve any sentence.

“I am concerned about Mr Assange’s mental health,” Albanese said. “There was a court decision here in the United Kingdom that was overturned on appeal that went to Mr Assange’s health as well and I am concerned for him.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies