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29 Jul, 2023 14:01

US rejects Australian plea to drop Assange case

Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that the WikiLeaks founder caused “serious harm” to US national security
US rejects Australian plea to drop Assange case

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has confirmed that Australia has raised the case of Julian Assange’s continued prosecution, but declared that Washington will not cease seeking the extradition of the former WikiLeaks boss and intends to try him for espionage.

Speaking alongside Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong in Brisbane on Saturday, Blinken said that while he understands “the concerns and views of Australians,” Assange’s alleged actions “risked very serious harm to our national security, to the benefit of our adversaries, and put named human sources at grave risk – grave risk – of physical harm, and grave risk of detention.”

Assange, he said, was “charged with very serious criminal conduct” and had allegedly taken part in “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of our country.”

An Australian citizen, Julian Assange is currently being held in London’s Belmarsh Prison. He is fighting extradition to the US, where he faces 17 charges under the Espionage Act and potentially a 175-year prison sentence. Human-rights and press-freedom activists have demanded his release, citing his deteriorating mental and physical health, while Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in May that he was “working through diplomatic channels” to press the US into dropping the case.

The charges against Assange stem from his publication of classified material obtained by whistleblowers, including Pentagon documents detailing alleged US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 250,000 diplomatic cables exposing US efforts to – among other things – spy on its allies and influence foreign elections.

While Assange did not personally steal these documents, he is nevertheless being prosecuted for espionage. He and his supporters argue that WikiLeaks’ publication of this material is protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

“We have made clear our view that Mr Assange’s case has dragged on for too long,” Foreign Minister Wong said on Saturday. “We’ve said that publicly and you would anticipate that that reflects also the position we articulate in private.” 

The extradition of Assange from Britain to the US was approved in 2020 by then-UK Home Secretary Priti Patel. The publisher lodged his final appeal against the decision in June, after all eight grounds of a previous appeal were rejected by a British High Court judge. 

Responding to Blinken’s comments on Saturday, Assange’s brother, Gabriel Shipton, said that it is now up to Prime Minister Albanese to make a public appeal for Assange’s freedom, during his upcoming visit to the US.