Scott Morrison urged to end ‘lunacy’ and push UK and US for Julian Assange’s release




SYDNEY-Australian parliamentarians have demanded the prime minister, Scott Morrison, intervene in the case of Julian Assange, an Australian citizen, after the United States won a crucial appeal in its fight to extradite the WikiLeaks founder on espionage charges.

"The prime minister must get Assange home," the Australian Greens leader, Adam Bandt, told Guardian Australia on Saturday.

"An Australian citizen is being prosecuted for publishing details of war crimes, yet our government sits on its hands and does nothing."

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
The independent MP Andrew Wilkie called on Morrison to "end this lunacy" and demand the US and UK release Assange.

Assange, 50, is wanted in the US over an alleged conspiracy to obtain and disclose classified information following WikiLeaks' publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

In January a UK court ruled Assange should not be sent to the US, citing a real and "oppressive" risk of suicide, but, after a two-day appeal hearing, the high court on Friday sided with the US.

The senior judges concluded the risk of suicide was mitigated by assurances from American authorities that Assange would not being held in highly restrictive prison conditions if extradited.

Assange's lawyers have said they intend to challenge the ruling with another appeal, this time in the UK's supreme court.

Bandt described the ruling as a "critical moment in the fight against suppression of press freedom".

"Assange's persecution and our government's inaction are chilling, and should worry everyone who cares about a free press or thinks that governments should protect their citizens," he said.

Wilkie said Assange should be looking forward to spending Christmas with his sons and fiancee.

"But instead he's facing a 175-year jail sentence and the very real possibility of living out his final days behind bars," the independent MP said. "Journalism is not a crime.

"Again the United Kingdom proves it's a lackey of the United States and that Australia is delighted to go along for the ride."

Greens senator Janet Rice also criticised the decision and said: "Foreign Minister Marise Payne must urgently speak to the US and tell them to drop these absurd charges and end Assange's torture."

Morrison previously made disparaging comments about the actor and Assange supporter Pamela Anderson when she appeared appeared on 60 Minutes Australia in 2018 to urge Morrison to "defend your friend, get Julian his passport back and take him back to Australia and be proud of him, and throw him a parade when he gets home".

The ruling that Assange can be extradited to the US has also drawn ire from the United Nations' special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, who sharply criticised the verdict.

"This is a shortcoming for the British judiciary," Melzer told the DPA news agency on Friday.

"You can think what you want about Assange but he is not in a condition to be extradited," he said, referring to a "politically motivated verdict".

Assange has been held in the UK's Belmarsh prison since 2019 after he was carried out of the Ecuadorian embassy by police and arrested for breaching his bail conditions.

He had entered the building in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex offence allegations, which he has always denied and which were eventually dropped.

Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman, Penny Wong, said: "We respect the UK court's decision and note this will not signal the end of this legal fight with the matter to be referred back to the lower court, and whatever the result there the matter [is] likely to go to the supreme court.

"However, Labor believes this has now dragged on for too long and has pressed the Morrison government to do what it can encourage the US government to bring this matter to a close.

"Labor expects the Australian government to provide appropriate consular support to Mr Assange, as is his right as an Australian citizen." (mr/guardian)

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