Australian PM condemns US prosecution of Assange
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Tuesday that he would continue to press the US to cease its prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, despite US Secretary of State Antony Blinken rejecting all previous pleas from Canberra for the wellbeing of its citizen.
“This has gone on for too long. Enough is enough,” Albanese told reporters. “We remain very firm in our view and in our representations to the American government and we will continue to do so.”
Albanese has made similar declarations before. He told Australia’s ABC broadcaster in May that the Assange case needed “to be brought to a conclusion,” and that his government was “working through diplomatic channels” to resolve the situation with Washington. He has not specified whether he wants the US to drop the case entirely or seek a plea bargain with the former WikiLeaks chief.
Blinken threw cold water on Albanese's advocacy for Assange, who has been incarcerated in Britain's Belmarsh prison for four years, over the weekend. Speaking alongside Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong in Brisbane on Saturday, Blinken claimed that 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 insisted, 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.”
Blinken’s statement was “consistent with what the American position has been” in private, Albanese said on Tuesday. Nevertheless, he said he would not drop the issue with his American counterparts.
Assange is currently fighting extradition to the US, where he faces 17 charges under the Espionage Act and potentially a 175-year prison sentence.
The charges against him 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 the US’ efforts to – among other things – spy on its allies and influence foreign elections.
The Espionage Act has never before been used to prosecute someone who published – but did not steal – classified material. Assange and his supporters argue that WikiLeaks’ publication of this material is protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, a view shared by former US president Barack Obama, whose Justice Department declined to press charges against the Australian as it concluded it had no legal grounds to do so.
Assange’s extradition to the US was approved in 2020 by then-UK home secretary Priti Patel. He lodged his final appeal against the decision in June of this year, after all eight grounds of a previous appeal were rejected by a High Court judge.