Australia ramps up pressure on UK and US to release Julian Assange

By Isaac M February 16, 2024

Australia’s parliament has passed a motion calling for the return of Julian Assange to Australia ahead of an appeal hearing in his extradition case at the High Court in London.

The country’s prime minister Anthony Albanese, who was one of 86 MPs to vote in favour against 42 who opposed, said he hoped the case could be “resolved amicably”.

It came as Assange’s wife Stella Assange told a media briefing ahead of his final appeal next week her husband, 52, “will die” if he is extradited to the US and could be on a plane “within days”.

A two-day hearing next week will determine whether Assange can continue to argue his case in the UK courts or if he has exhausted all of his appeals and will be extradited to the US.

The WikiLeaks founder is wanted in America over an alleged conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information following the publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. He denies any wrongdoing.

Assange has been held in London’s Belmarsh prison since his arrest in April 2019 after leaving the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he had claimed political asylum in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault. The investigation was dropped in 2019.

The UK government approved Assange’s extradition to the US in June 2022, where his supporters say he faces 175 years in prison, while his lawyer claims the Australian’s life “is at risk” if the appeal fails.

FILE - Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese briefs the media during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz after a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on July 10, 2023. Prime Minister Albanese said Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, he would protest a lack of transparency in China...s treatment of a detained Australian democracy blogger when he meets with President Xi Jinping in Beijing during a trade-focused state visit. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File)
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. File pic: AP

Ms Assange, who has two children with Assange after meeting him while working as part of his legal team, said: “The situation is extremely grave. He could be on a plane within days.

“His health is in decline, mentally and physically. His life is at risk every single day he stays in prison, and if he’s extradited, he will die.

“But it’s not just about being extradited. Julian should never have been put in prison in the first place.”

She said her husband will apply to the European Court of Human Rights if he loses the appeal.

Artist Andrei Molodkin earlier this week said he plans to destroy masterpieces by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt and Andy Warhol with acid if Assange dies in prison.

Stella Assange.
Pic: Reuters
Stella Assange says her husband ‘will die’ if he’s extradited. Pic: Reuters

Read more:
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Fugitive or hero? Timeline of Assange’s legal battle
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Mr Albanese has been urging the US to drop the extradition request and told the Australian parliament ahead of Assange’s appeal: “I hope it can be resolved amicably.

“It’s not up to Australia to interfere in the legal processes of other countries, but it is appropriate for us to put our very strong view that those countries need to take into account the need for this to be concluded.”

Extradition discussions held

Australia’s attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said Assange’s extradition was raised in a meeting with his US counterpart Merrick Garland in Washington last month.

“This was a private discussion, however this government’s position on Assange is very clear, and has not changed,” he said in a statement.

“It is time this matter is brought to an end.”

During a visit to Australia last year, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Assange was accused of “very serious criminal conduct” in publishing classified US documents.


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