Canberra Faces Flak for 'Abandoning Australian Hero' Julian Assange After UK Extradition Order
While in opposition, Australia’s newly elected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had been critical of Assange’s imprisonment in the UK. "I don't have sympathy for many of [Assange's] actions but essentially I can't see what is served by keeping him incarcerated,” Albanese said last February.
Australian parliamentarians and advocacy groups have slammed Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s government for not “speaking up” for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a day after the United Kingdom Home Secretary Priti Patel approved his extradition to the US.
Independent Australian Member of Parliament (MP) Andrew Wilkie accused the Labor government of “abandoning an Australian hero journalist”.
“Like many Australians, I have given plenty of time to the new Federal Government to sort this matter out. Well, the time’s up for the new Federal Government hinting at caring and then doing nothing,” Wilkie said in a statement.
“The new Australian government is now to be condemned for abandoning an Australian hero journalist facing the very real prospect of spending the rest of his life rotting in a US prison,” he added.
The MP reckoned the whole case of Assange “is so deeply wrong on so many levels”, adding that his extradition to the US to face “trumped up espionage and other charges is an outrageous betrayal of the rule of law, media freedom and human rights”.
Wilkie also claimed that the US/UK extradition agreement, under which Assange’s extradition request has been approved, didn’t include the charges levelled against the WikiLeaks founder.
“The outraged Washington and the Americans are desperate to get even, with the UK and Australian governments tripping over themselves in the rush to please the US and go along for a ride,” he said.
Julian Hill, an MP from Albanese’s Labor Party, described the UK Home Secretary's extradition decision as “appalling”.
“There can never be a legal solution to this case. It is inherently political. Political cases should never be the subject of extradition. We should speak up for our fellow Australian and request these charges be dropped and he not be extradited,” Hill stated.
Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also said that he “disagreed” with Patel’s decision to sign the extradition order.
“I do not support Assange’s actions and his reckless disregard for classified security information. But if Assange is guilty, then so too are the dozens of newspaper editors who happily published his material. Total hypocrisy,” Rudd remarked.
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), a peak Australian organisation representing the interests of creative professionals, said that the move to extradite Assange “imperils” the safety of journalists across the globe. The MEAA said that Patel’s order constituted a “dangerous assault” on journalistic freedom.
The Australian government's scathing criticism came after its Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Attorney General Mark Dreyfus issued an official joint statement that said Canberra can’t “intervene in the legal matters of another country”.
“We will continue to convey our expectations that Mr Assange is entitled to due process, humane and fair treatment, access to proper medical care, and access to his legal team,” the Australian government stated.
“The Australian Government has been clear in our view that Mr Assange’s case has dragged on for too long and that it should be brought to a close. We will continue to express this view to the governments of the United Kingdom and United States,” it added.
In 2010, the WikiLeaks founder published thousands of classified US military and diplomatic documents relating to possible war crimes committed by the American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The US has indicted him on 18 counts, for which the maximum sentence is 170 years.
Assange spent around seven years at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after being granted political asylum by the South American nation. He was dragged out of the mission by British police in 2019 after his asylum status was revoked.
Assange has been in Belmarsh, a high-security prison in London, since October 2020, having served an 11-month jail sentence.
On 20 April, a Westminster court formally approved the extradition of Assange to the US. On 17 May, Assange’s wife Stella Morris submitted a plea to Patel to stop the extradition.