Greens Senator David Shoebridge told a crowd of Assange supporters over the weekend that “it is not enough” for the Albanese government to just “endlessly repeat the mantra that it has gone on too long” in regard to Washington’s attempt to extradite an imprisoned Julian Assange from the UK.
This sentiment was shared amongst those gathered in the 40°C heat out the front of PM Anthony Albanese’s Marrickville office in Sydney on Saturday.
And this sentiment is not old, rather its where the more-than-a-decade-old Assange campaign has progressed to under Labor leadership.
Federal Labor took office in May 2022. This was six months after then opposition leader Albanese first stated “enough is enough” in respect to the ongoing incarceration of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the UK and the attempt to extradite him on the part of the US.
Yet, two years later and “enough is enough” appears to be all that the PM has said and continues to say. And Shoebridge further questioned the form of foreign minister Penny Wong, who’s repeatedly asserted that her party can do no more, as it has done all that it can.
Indeed, amongst the Assange supporters before Albanese’s office on 9 December, who are all well aware that Julian has now been remanded in Belmarsh prison for over four and a half years, it was clear that what the PM and cabinet has delivered is not enough and this is far from over.
On being asked how his son is holding up, Julian’s father John Shipton told Sydney Criminal Lawyers that “it’s now moving into the thirteenth year of incarceration in one form or another, the fifth year in Belmarsh maximum-security prison” and “he’s as one would expect in those circumstances”.
In June, the UK High Court rejected publisher and journalist Julian Assange’s next to last appeal of its government’s decision to greenlight extradition, which was formally granted by then home minister Priti Patel in June 2022, after an initial court extradition rejection was overturned.
The January 2021 rejection of the White House position was made on mental health grounds. Yet, this was overturned after the US provided four assurances to the court, which included Assange not being placed in the harshest US prison regime pre- or post-trial, as experts insist this will be his end.
Stella Assange, the Australian journalist’s wife, explained at the time, that there is one more appeal open to her husband, which is set to go before two new justices of the UK High Court, in what will be a public hearing that most people had been expecting to take place prior to this year’s end.
“That is a question we ask all the time: what is happening with the judiciary?” Shipton said of the final UK court appearance that still holds the potential to save his Townsville-born son from the extreme isolation of a US prison. “The appeal for a final hearing is in. We await the answer.”
Strung up as deterrence
Marrickville priest Dave Smith told the protest that as the decade-long campaign to free Assange continues, the “more appropriate” the suggestion that the US and the UK government are crucifying the WikiLeaks founder has become.
Smith recalled the Via Appia, the most strategically important road in the Roman Empire. The priest explained that in 73 BCE, the Spartacus slave revolt was put down, and 6,000 slaves were crucified on crosses along the thoroughfare to act as a warning.
“Crucifixion is a form of imperial power,” he said.
After Assange had been held up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for seven years, the South American government handed the journalist over to the UK, which, due to an outstanding breach of bail charge, began to detain the WikiLeaks founder on behalf of the US in the local prison system.
The initial US indictment carried one computer hacking charge. However, this was later added to and then replaced by a June 2020 US East Virginia District Court indictment, which contains 17 additional espionage charges, which together carry up to 175 years imprisonment.
However, these moves involve legal anomalies. The starkest being that the US has reached out across international borders to arrest a foreign national, who allegedly committed criminal acts in another country, and it seeks to charge the Australian under its own domestic espionage laws.
The Via Appia imagery serves well as Assange is being strung up in front of the globe by the AUKUS powers for having exposed thousands of classified US government documents that were leaked to him, which is a warning to those who might attempt the same as to consequences that would await.
And just like the fate of Jesus and the slaves of Spartacus, Assange’s treatment at the hands of empire has been slow and painful.
Demands that hold weight
Much to the dismay of all gathered before the prime minister’s office, whistleblowing hero David McBride is being sentenced early next year, in relation to his having blown the whistle on corruption in the Australian army, which took place in Afghanistan in the early years of last decade.
The lawyer said he was always aware that he may “lose the battle”, especially as his case had so many secrecy orders hanging over it that the prosecution was able to siege much of his evidence straight from the folder, which foiled his case.
But, he added that we will definitely “win the war” in the long run.
“The government is a bit like the character Cartman,” McBride continued, “in the animated series, standing their feet and saying, ‘You will reflect our authority. You must respect our authority.’ But the more shrill they get and the more they flash their plastic baton around, the more people realise.”
Julian’s father told the rally that his son could be saved from ongoing incarceration with a simple phone call from the PM. And he added that anything in relation to a prosecution and subsequent gaoling of Assange could be handled by the Australian government working in the domestic sphere.
“For 13 years, we’ve acquiesced to whatever the US and the UK wanted to do to Julian. Acquiescence means complicity,” he added. “You are in if you don’t act. If you know and you don’t act, then you are in. We have participated in, to use Father Dave’s words, sending a man to Calvary.”
According to Shoebridge, it’s time to up the ante in terms of ensuring an Australian-born son is returned. And that means making demands for his release that involve caveats, such as not allowing US ships to dock locally for six months or stopping a certain cooperation, perhaps, the AUKUS.
“If prime minister Albanese is going to be a genuine prime minister for Australia, that means standing up to the United States,” the senator made clear.
“That means saying Australia will stand up for its citizens and will not permit a law of the US to say wherever Australian citizens are anywhere on the planet then US law can reach and plunk them out of their homes if they dare tell the truth about the US,” Shoebridge ended.