Albanese Must Step Up and Fight for Assange, as UK Greenlights Extradition

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Albanese and Assange

UK home secretary Priti Patel has done what those who were aware of her political leanings expected. Last Friday she greenlighted the extradition of Julian Assange, so that the White House can continue its assault on the Australian journalist, who revealed its war crimes to the globe.

As Lawyers for Assange put it, the Conservative MP’s decision was in keeping with the decade-long “collective persecution” of the WikiLeaks founder, and while “sadly anticipated, it is nonetheless shocking”.

Assange was taken into UK custody in April 2019, after spending seven years hauled up in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy. And he’s been held on remand on behalf of the US state for the majority of the three years since in London’s Belmarsh Prison, in conditions that amount to prolonged torture.

Wikileaks declared that the 17th of June decision marked “a dark day for press freedom and for British democracy”.

Although, it further stressed it is “not the end of the fight”, rather it’s “only the beginning of a new legal battle”, as Julian’s team of lawyers is launching an appeal to the UK High Court.

A travesty of justice

The US is attempting to prosecute Assange over an 18 count indictment, which includes 17 espionage charges, relating to the publishing of thousands of classified US government military and diplomatic files over 2010-11, which were sent to him by then US Army officer Chelsea Manning.

The question going back three years now is how can the White House simply reach across borders and arrest a foreign national on spying charges for actions that took place on the soil of other nations, which, far from being acts of espionage, actually constitute regular journalistic practice.

During the course of proceedings, it’s also come to light that the US spied on Assange whilst he consulted lawyers in the embassy, part of the indictment is based on lies and Washington also deliberated upon whether to kidnap him in London, or even flagged assassinating him there.

Indeed, the Obama administration decided not to pursue the matter, and it wasn’t until Julian commenced publishing the content of the CIA’s Vault 7 hacking manual in 2017 that then Trump-appointed CIA head Mike Pompeo unleashed the current campaign to prosecute Julian.

Canberra’s complicity

Since the UK police dragged Townsville-born Assange out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in mid-2019, the UK and the Australian governments have both been labelled complicit in the unjust and blatantly extralegal proceedings.

Former Australian prime minister Scott Morrison did and said little about the arrest and detention of the Australian citizen on his watch, and it’s been with relief to the Assange campaign that Anthony Albanese has taken over the reins in recent months.

As leader of the opposition, Albanese declared “enough is enough” in February last year, as he called for the Australian journalist to be freed. The new PM was also one of the few MPs and senators to sign a 2019 parliamentary petition calling for the prosecution of the journalist to be dropped.

And on being questioned in late May as to whether he’d be attempting to see this come to fruition, the leader of the country stated, “My position is that not all foreign affairs is best done with the loud hailer.” And recent reports suggest these behind-the-scenes negotiations continue.

However, according to Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who has long been Assange’s most ardent supporter in federal parliament, Patel’s decision to sign off on the extradition shows a grave failure of successive Australian governments that have “hinted at caring and then doing nothing”.

“Like many Australians, I’ve given the new federal government plenty of time to sort this matter out”, Wilkie said in a statement last Saturday.

“The new Australian government is now to be condemned for abandoning an Australian hero journalist facing the very real prospect of spending the rest of his life rotting in a US prison.”

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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