The following by Julian Assange and WikiLeaks legal advisor, solicitor Greg Barns, and published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 2 June 2018, provides a case for intervention by the Australian government, for the protection of an Australian citizen. Assange’s position is becoming increasingly critical, with mounting pressure on the Ecuadoran government to hand him over to British authorities. This would result in his extradition to the United States for political reasons. Below this article is a brief comment on the support for Julian Assange from Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame and prominent journalist John Pilger, and coming actions in Sydney, London and Dublin.
Julian Assange has been detained in the Ecuadorean embassy for the best part of six years now. He is more isolated than ever with the Ecuadorean government cutting his access to the Internet in April. And the Americans are baying for his blood, some might say literally.
Attorney-General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have made no secret of their desire to shut down WikiLeaks which the latter calls a “hostile non-state intelligence service”, and to see Assange arrested.
This week, the senior Democrat congressman on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, rebuffed overtures to meet Assange with the statement that he would only do so when Assange was in US custody.
The message from the United States confirms the fear that drove Assange to seek asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy in 2012, when Swedish prosecutors were seeking to question him about some allegations – that is, the US will seek to extradite him to face charges concerning WikiLeaks activities.
Furthermore, the tenor of the recent comments by Pompeo, Sessions and Schiff are decidedly aggressive and hostile from which a reasonable person would infer that Assange will be subjected to torture and cruel and unusual punishment of the sort meted out to Chelsea Manning, when she was detained in July 2010, and subsequently tried and convicted for allegedly providing material to WikiLeaks.
There is an opportunity for Australia to help resolve matters, particularly given that the reason for the reticence on Canberra’s part to involve itself in the Assange case has now gone.
While Assange has been granted Ecuadorean citizenship he remains an Australian citizen and has familial ties to this country. Assange has strong family ties to Australia: both his parents live here and are aging, and this is the country he grew up in and lived in for the first two and a bit decades of his life. Up until 2010 this was home.
Up until now the Australian government has had a very hands off approach to Assange’s plight. Early on there were nonsensical utterances by then prime minister Julia Gillard that Assange had committed offences under Australian law in publishing documents about the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions by the US and its allies in the aftermath of 9/11.
Fortunately, that is no longer the attitude and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his government have been more circumspect in dealing with the Assange case. Turnbull rightly criticised Gillard’s response.
But there is now an opportunity for Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to assist in ensuring that this Australian citizen is no longer at risk of being subjected to US detention and can therefore leave the Ecuadorean embassy. This is because a key hurdle to Australian involvement in the Assange case has been removed, namely the Swedish warrant.
In documents obtained last year under FOI by lawyer and WikiLeaks advocate Kellie Tranter, the formal Australian position on the Assange case was outlined. Documents from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, written in February 2016 after the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that Assange was being unlawfully detained, because of the US threat and the refusal of Sweden and the UK to rule out undertaking not to comply with an extradition request by Washington, indicate that Australia’s position was “it would not be appropriate for the Australian government to comment on the legal system of either the UK or Sweden which have matters on foot in relation to Mr Assange.”
Another document recommended that Bishop not accede to a request from some members of Assange’s legal team to intervene, if the arbitrary detention was not brought to a close by the UK and Sweden. Again, the reasoning was the same – Australia will not intervene in the active legal processes of other countries.
Of course, as they say, that was then, and this is now. The Swedes are out of the picture with Sweden’s prosecutors announcing in May last year it was dropping its preliminary investigation. The only outstanding legal issue is now the relatively minor one of a breach of bail conditions by Assange when he sought asylum in 2012.
In other words, Turnbull and Bishop could speak with their counterparts in London on behalf of an Australian citizen, not for the purposes of seeking to intervene in a legal process, but purely because it is incumbent upon a civilised nation to protect its citizens from risks posed by other nations to that citizen’s wellbeing. Such a move on the part of Turnbull and Bishop would not have to be seen as an endorsement of Assange and WikiLeaks, but simply a case of saying that now that the Swedish legal system is no longer involved in matters there is no breach of the position that Australia will not intervene in the legal processes of another nation.
It is to the credit of Turnbull and Bishop that neither has responded to, or endorsed, the rancorous conduct of US politicians like Pompeo, Sessions and Schiff. This leaves them in a very good position to act on behalf of an Australian citizen who could do with some political and diplomatic common sense and cool heads.
John Pilger, Roger Waters, Julian Burnside QC and Terry Hicks, father of former Guantanamo prisoner, David Hicks, are backing a rally on 17 June at the Sydney Town Hall Square at 1 pm. Pilger will address those there.
On 19 June there will be a vigil and rally outside the Ecuadorean embassy in London, beginning at 6pm. Other vigils will be held outside British embassies around the world on the same day. In Dublin, Nobel Peace Prize winner Mariead Maguire and members of the Irish parliament, Clare Daly & Mick Wallace, will speak in support of Julian outside the British embassy.