Julian Assange must be freed and Australia’s whistleblowers protected

Contributed by Joe Montero

The Julian Assange case continues to drag on as the British Home Secretary Priti Patel delays announcing whether to allow extradition to the United States to proceed, although Assange’s legal team hope that there will be news within the next week.

Photo from PA Media: Home Secretary Priti Patel

Assange’s lawyers say that it is clear that illegal acts allowed by the British government to prosecute the case make it clear that the case should be dropped. One is that it is in breach of a treaty between the United Kingdom and the United States that explicitly rules out extradition in a case that has clear political connotations and likely to deny fair treatment.

Pending charges for treason, despite not being a citizen of the United States, and the prospect of 175 years imprisonment, the denial of fair trial by jury and the imposition of restrictions to defend oneself and the right to cross examine witnesses for the prosecution certainly qualifies as unfair treatment. So does the added charge of espionage by aiding Chelsea Manning to gain access to codes to access classified material. Chelsea was a security analyst who already had access. Chelsea was pardoned and Assange is still being persecuted. This is unequal treatment.

The European Court of Human Rights has just ruled that the government of the United Kingdom had illegally spied on the WikiLeaks founder’s lawyers at the Ecuadorian embassy. A court case in Spain, where David Morales, the founder and CEO of UC Global, the company contracted to do the spying, is on. Details have been supplied by a whistleblower known as Witness #2.

Information collected by UC Global was handed over to United States intelligence.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, the editor in chief of WikiLeaks says,

“The case should be thrown out immediately. Not only is it illegal on the face of the [extradition] treaty, but the U.S. has also conducted illegal operations against Assange and his lawyers, which are the subject of a major investigation in Spain.”

The Council of Bar and Law Societies of Europe, which represents more than a million lawyers, has sent a letter to Priti Patel, pointing out this serious breech of client-layer confidentiality that prevents the possibility of a fair trial. Other concerns are mentioned.

More than 300 doctors from 35 countries have sent their own letter to the minister. Doctors for Assange told Patel that approving his extradition would be “medically and ethically unacceptable.”

A report in the Spanish daily El Pais, suggests that proof of the illegal surveillance should be enough to block the extradition to the United States.

“It could be argued that the [extradition] process was flawed because the right of defence was violated by the country requesting the extradition,” El Pais said.

The European court cases carry a great deal of political clout and puts immense pressure on the British government, and this is likely to be a big reason for Priti Patel’s delay in making an announcement.

On 7 June, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) issued a press release, where it called on Patel

“…not to extradite Julian Assange. The public interest of several publications by WikiLeaks should be taken into account, as it contributed to important investigative reports and news reporting. It is essential to consider the impact on freedom of expression and media freedom if he is extradited and convicted. The fact that someone who disclosed material of public interest might face a long prison sentence could have a grave and lasting impact on investigative journalism.”

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is headquartered in Vienna

But despite pressure from within its ranks, a large cross-party group of politicians, and most importantly, public opinion, in addition to the body of evidence about illegal practices and the public interest, Australia’s new Albanese government has so far failed to make a move on behalf of Assange, who is an Australian citizen.

Failure of government support over more than 12 years is in line with the rise of authoritarianism in the Australian political system, and the strength of the influence of Washington over Canberra.

Although the Assange case is the best known, there are other domestic cases that have more than a passing resemblance to what is happening to Julian Assange.

Pressure is on the Albanese government to drop persecution of several whistleblowers. This includes Richard Boyle, who released damning information on how the Australian Taxation Office illegally raided personal bank accounts. Jeff Morris, who blew the whistle on practices of the Commonwealth Bank that led to the Royal Commission on the Banks.

Then there are the cases of lawyer Bernard Collaery and his whistleblower client Witness K. This case exposed illegal phone tapping of the government of Timor-Leste by an Australian security team. Their prosecution through Australian courts is continuing.

It is about time all this was brought to an end.

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