Contributed by Joe Montero
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has raised the issue of the continued detention of Julian Assange in meetings with United States officials. This is something, after a year of silence, while the Australian journalist and publisher has continued to suffer is Britain’s notorious Belmarsh prison.
Albanese revealed this to the parliament this past Wednesday. He said, “This is an Australian citizen … what is the point of continuing this legal action, which could be caught up now for many years into the future?”
Julian is facing the prospect of being extradited to the United States to face obviously politically motivated charges that will have him locked up for the rest of his life. He faces up to 175 years for treason and more for a further charge of espionage.
There is little chance of receiving a fair trial in the United States. He will face a politically selected panel, be denied the right to a proper deference, the rights to proper legal representation, cross examination of witnesses and evidence, and the right to be presumed innocent unless the case id proved beyond any reasonable doubt. This is the same system used to prosecute prisoners at Guantanamo over alleged and unproven involvement in terrorism.
Assange is a widely recognised journalist around the world, targeted for bringing us the truth about the wrongdoing of leaders and corruption.
Anthony Albanese admits none of this. In fact, he works hard to distance himself from Assange, saying that he has little sympathy for the actions of the WikiLeaks founder. Although Albanese mentioning the case to officials, this is short of speaking to President Joe Biden himself, and is very different from calling for his release, which is what most of Australia wants.
Timidity from Australia’s political leadership before Washington is not new. It has been the pattern since World War Two. American economic and political clout over Australia is so strong that we have often been referred to as the fifty-first state of that country. Prime Ministers wanting the stay in office have felt compelled to obey Washington’s foreign policy.
This is arguably the main reason for the current Prime Minister’s weakness on this issue. On the other hand, he has been moved a little by the weight of public opinion, pressure from his colleagues, and let’s not forget, the actions of his family and supporters. Without them nothing would have happened.
While welcoming that Albanese has mentioned the matter, there is still a lot further to go. Australia must call for the release of Julian Assange. Justice demands no less.
There are implications for the rest of us. His persecution has been an important factor in diminishing our own right to access information and speak, the drift towards secret trails, and a sliding towards big brother government in the three countries involved. Assange’s is a test case. If it succeeds, the method will be used on many others.
We can’t afford to let this happen. Australia must insist that the Prime Minister and government stand up and be counted in the hour of need.