Mon, 27 Jun 2022

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese refused to publicly demand that the US drops charges against the WikiLeaks co-founder

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Monday he stood by his pre-election position that WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange should go free. However, he refused to make a public call to the US to drop all charges against the jailed publisher, who is an Australian citizen.

"There are some people who think that if you put things in capital letters on Twitter and put an exclamation mark that somehow makes it more important. It doesn't," the Australian leader said.

"I intend to lead a government that engages diplomatically and appropriately with our partners," he added.

Albanese stressed that he made his position on the Assange case clear last year, when he was the opposition leader, and it has not changed since. At the time he said that while he personally didn't have sympathy for many of the man's actions, he could not "see what is served by keeping him incarcerated" in Britain.

Calls for the Australian government to publicly intervene on behalf of Assange increased after last Friday, when the British government approved his extradition to the US. The transparency activist is facing up to 175 years in prison on 18 charges, most of them under the US Espionage Act. His legal team said it will challenge the decision in the UK court system.

Among the people in Australia calling for the government to act was Bob Carr, the former premier of New South Wales who also served as Australia's foreign minister the last time Albanese's Labor party was in power.

He blasted the cabinet of Scott Morrison, who lost the federal election to Albanese last month, for not doing "even the faintest whinny of protest" as the Trump administration ramped up its campaign to take Assange into US custody.

"It was as if we were not a sovereign government but some category of US territory like Puerto Rico and an Australian passport holder didn't rate protection from the vengeful anger of one corner of the American security apparatus," Carr wrote in an opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald. "A France or Germany - a New Zealand - would not have been as craven."

He called to lever the US need for Australia to be a security ally in the Pacific to stop the prosecution of Assange. He also pointed out that the US was regressing as a modern democracy, so it could prove its "claim to be a nation of laws" by lifting the threat of extradition from the "dissident publisher".

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said Assange "suffered enough" in a decade, during which his freedom of movement was restricted - first when he took shelter in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and later in the UK's Belmarsh maximum security prison. He called on Albanese to just "pick up the phone and demand that this madness end".

"When you boil it all down, we've got a Walkley Award-winning Australian journalist and Australian citizen who in 2010 revealed hard evidence of US war crimes," he told Sky News.

The charges against Assange stem from his communications with WikiLeaks informant Chelsea Manning as she leaked classified materials about US military action. The most infamous part of the material was footage showing US military attacks on civilians in Iraq, which was published in 2010.

Manning was arrested the same year and court-martialed for her actions. Her sentence of 35 years in prison was commuted in 2017 by the outgoing President Barack Obama.

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