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15 Feb, 2024 17:46

Australian PM backs Assange release calls

The WikiLeaks co-founder is battling extradition to the US, where he faces a possible sentence of 175 years on espionage charges
Australian PM backs Assange release calls

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was among several federal lawmakers to vote in favor of a motion to call on authorities in the UK and US to allow the repatriation of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange to Australia, where he was born.

The motion, proposed by independent MP Andrew Wilkie, was overwhelmingly passed in a Wednesday session after it gained the backing of Albanese’s Labor government. Peter Dutton, leader of the conservative opposition coalition, along with a majority of his colleagues, opposed the vote.

The result was “an unprecedented show of political support for Mr Assange by the Australian parliament,” Wilkie said afterwards, adding that he expects the motion “will send a powerful political signal to the British government and to the US government.”

Australian national Assange, 52, has been held in solitary confinement in London's Belmarsh prison for almost five years, where he awaits judgment on an appeal to block his extradition to the United States. He faces a possible sentence of 175 years on espionage charges related to the publishing of vast troves of information – some of which appeared to document US war crimes overseas – deemed highly embarrassing to the US government.

Albanese has repeatedly urged the US to withdraw its extradition requests but has so far been unable to reach a diplomatic remedy, claiming that Assange’s future will be “brought to a conclusion.”

Among the diplomatic steps taken was a meeting between Australian Attorney General Mark Dreyfus and his US counterpart, Merrick Garland, in Washington DC two weeks ago. Speaking to The Guardian Australia, Dreyfus did not elaborate on the “private discussion” other than to say that the “[US] government’s position on Mr Assange is very clear, and has not changed.”

During a debate in advance of Wednesday’s vote, Wilkie said that if Assange’s appeal against extradition next week is unsuccessful, “he could be on a plane to the United States within hours.”

“We’ve just about run out of time to save Julian Assange,” the MP added.

Speaking last summer, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested that US policy on Assange is immovable. Following a meeting with Australian officials in Brisbane in July, he said that “our friends” in Australia must fully comprehend Assange’s “alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of our country.”

Assange’s supporters, though, claim that he has been victimized by the US for exposing wrongdoing, including in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and argue that his incarceration there would be an assault on press freedom.

A public hearing that will decide Assange's fate will take place on February 20 and 21 in London, according to a WikiLeaks statement.