Australian lawmakers approve motion calling for the release of Julian Assange

15 February 2024, 05:24

Australia Assange
Australia Assange. Picture: PA

Assange has been in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison since he was arrested in 2019 for skipping bail during a separate legal battle.

Australia’s House of Representatives has ramped up pressure on the United States and Britain to end the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange by passing a motion calling for the Australian citizen to be allowed to return to his home country.

Independent lawmaker Andrew Wilkie moved the motion on Wednesday one week ahead of Britain’s High Court of Justice hearing Assange’s appeal against extradition to the United States on espionage charges.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was among the 86 lawmakers who voted for the motion that called on the United States and Britain to bring the “matter to a close so that Mr Assange can return home to his family in Australia”.

The motion was opposed by 42 lawmakers including most of the main opposition party that unsuccessfully proposed amendments.

Leaders of both the government and the opposition have publicly stated that the United States’ pursuit of the 52-year-old had dragged on for too long.

Assange has been in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison since he was arrested in 2019 for skipping bail during a separate legal battle.

Before that, he spent seven years inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault. Sweden dropped the rape investigation in 2019 because so much time had elapsed.

Assange’s brother Gabriel Shipton on Thursday welcomed the vote, adding that his notorious sibling could potentially be extradited to the United States next week.

Mr Shipton told reporters at Parliament House: “That means all the ties to his family, his lifeline that are keeping him alive inside that prison will be cut off and he’ll be lost into a horrific prison system in the United States.

“This show of support from the Parliament is at a crucial time and now gives the government a real mandate to advocate very, very strongly for a political solution to bring Julian Assange home.”

Mr Wilkie, who authored the motion, argues the extradition should be dropped.

But the Albanese government’s language has been more circumspect. Australia’s repeated calls for the charges to be “brought to a conclusion” leave open the possibility of a plea deal that could require Assange spend no more time in custody.

Assange’s plight is seen as a test of Mr Albanese’s leverage with the administration of US President Joe Biden.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken pushed back against Mr Albanese’s position during a visit to Australia last year, saying Assange was accused of “very serious criminal conduct” in publishing a trove of classified US documents more than a decade ago.

Senior opposition politician Dan Tehan said the motion did not reflect his party’s wish that the prosecution progress more quickly.

He told reporters on Thursday: “It was about criticising the Americans for standing up for their right to be able to deal with the implications of people leaking national security issues and we have to get this right.

“What Julian Assange is accused of is leaking national security secrets. Now no one should condone that.

“What we do want to see though… is that justice can prevail in a quick time, that he can be heard in court and that the length of time that it’s taken to prosecute this isn’t so long.”

Assange faces 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic and military documents more than a decade ago.

American prosecutors allege he helped US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published, putting lives at risk.

By Press Association

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