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Australia: Julian Assange’s family says federal election result brings renewed hope for WikiLeaks founder’s release

Sunday 19 June 2022, by siawi3


Julian Assange’s family says federal election result brings renewed hope for WikiLeaks founder’s release

By Brendan Mounter and Adam Stephen

Posted Fri 27 May 2022 at 4:31am
Friday 27 May 2022 at 4:31am

A photo of Julian Assange taken through the window of a police van.
Julian Assange has been in the UK’s high security Belmarsh Prison for three years.(Reuters: Henry Nicholls)

The family of Julian Assange is hopeful the election of a federal Labor government will pave the way for the WikiLeaks founder’s eventual release and a return to Australia.

Key points:

The family and supporters of Julian Assange are hopeful of securing his release following a change of government
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has previously expressed support for efforts to secure the WikiLeaks founder’s return to Australia
Mr Assange has spent the past three years in the UK’s Belmarsh Prison

It has been almost a decade since Mr Assange, who originally hails from Townsville in north Queensland, has been a free man.

For the past three years, he has been in high security detention at Belmarsh Prison in the United Kingdom, after seven years of asylum within London’s Ecuadorian embassy in a bid to avoid arrest.

United States authorities have sought Mr Assange’s extradition from the UK so he can stand trial on charges of espionage and computer misuse relating to hundreds of thousands of leaked cables from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His brother, film producer Gabriel Shipton, said Mr Assange had been persecuted for publishing the ugly truths of war.

“Julian is accused of what investigative journalists do all the time, which is sourcing and publishing materials from a source, Chelsea Manning,” Mr Shipton said.

“Those releases exposed war crimes in Iraq, undocumented civilian deaths in Iraq, corruption, government malfeasance … all sorts of things.”

American prosecutors allege Mr Assange unlawfully helped US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published, putting lives at risk.

Photo: A man drives a truck with the images of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and whistleblower Chelsea Manning on its side.
Prosecutors allege Mr Assange illegally helped US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified information.(AP: Alastair Grant)

Family urges incoming government to act

Lawyers for Mr Assange fear he could face up to 175 years in jail if he is extradited to the US and convicted.

But the weekend’s election result has buoyed his supporters, with the hope that the new Labor government will intervene and help secure his release.

While in Opposition, newly elected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is reported to have told a February 2021 caucus meeting that “enough was enough” and he “can’t see what’s served by keeping [Assange] incarcerated”.

Photo: Two men standing in front of flags, shaking hands.
Supporters hope Prime Minister Anthony Albanese raised Mr Assange’s case with US President Joe Biden at the Quad meeting this week.(Reuters: Jonathan Ernst)

Mr Albanese is also a signatory to the Bring Julian Assange Home Campaign petition.

Senior Labor MP Mark Dreyfus, who is expected to be appointed Attorney-General, has also expressed a need to “bring the matter to a close”.

Mr Shipton is calling on the new government to turn those words into action.

“That was the Labor position before the election so we’re very hopeful when there’s a new administration, a new government coming in there’s always a lot of hope that they will live up to their promises,” he said.

“I hope [Mr Albanese] raised Julian’s case with [US President] Joe Biden [at the recent Quad meeting].”

The ABC has approached federal Labor to confirm if MPs’ positions had changed, whether Mr Assange’s case was raised at this week’s Quad meeting in Tokyo, and what plans the new government had to intervene or offer consulate assistance.

A spokesperson said the ALP could not comment at this stage, noting the new ministry was yet to be appointed.

UK precedent could offer Assange a lifeline

Mr Shipton said the UK and Australia could also work together to reject the US extradition request, citing a precedent set when former British home secretary Theresa May was in office.

Photo: A man holds a poster over most of his face. The poster is of Julian Assange, and reads ’Free Assange’.
Mr Shipton believes support for his brother has grown since he has been in jail.(AP: Alastair Grant)

“She rejected an extradition order for Gary McKinnon, who had a similar Asperger’s syndrome and severe depression that Julian has, saying that Gary would not get the support that is needed for his conditions in a US prison, so there is a precedent there,” he said.

The scenario Assange warned of for years is coming to pass

In the end, Julian Assange lost the game of international politics. Now he’s facing a new reality and the confines of the Ecuadorian embassy may seem a paradise compared with what lies ahead.
Julian Assange is held by officials. His beard is long, his hair white, as he is led out of embassy.
Read more

“I think Anthony Albanese could just pick up the phone and call Boris Johnson and implore him to show some compassion on this.”

Mr Shipton has grave fears for his brother’s welfare, well beyond any life sentence, if he were to be extradited to the US.

“I really believe he won’t be kept safe there in the US prison system,” he said.

“We know there are people who are part of the security state in the US who really want Julian dead. They’ve called for it on national television.”It’s really important that we stop this here; that he’s not extradited, and he’s released and brought home to Australia."

Assange supporters believe his freedom is important for democracy

Mr Shipton had produced a documentary called Ithaka, detailing the efforts of John Shipton, the brothers’ father, to secure his son’s freedom.

He believes public support for his brother has galvanised during the prolonged incarceration, citing various petitions and a growing number of public figures demanding Mr Assange’s release.

Photo: John Shipton sits in a house and looks directly at the camera.
A documentary airing in June details the efforts of Julian Assange’s father, John Shipton, to free his son.(ABC News: Bridget Brennan)

“It’s not just about Julian, it’s about all of us, and I think people around the world are starting to realise that and they’re making their voices heard,” he said.

“People are beginning to see what this case means for their right to know what the government’s doing their name.”I really believe that this movement is growing and we will be able to bring Julian home."

Ithaka will be screened on ABC TV and ABC iView over two nights beginning on June 7.
Posted 27 May 2022
27 May 2022

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