Lawyers for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange are urging the Australian government to do more to gain the release of the Queensland-born activist. Assange is to be extradited from Britain to the United States to face espionage charges, in a move approved by the British government late last week.
To his supporters, Julian Assange is a hero who, among other things, exposed U.S. wrongdoing in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. They insist his prosecution is politically motivated.
But officials in Washington have for years said the confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic cables Assange’s Wikileaks website released had violated U.S. espionage laws and put lives at risk.
The Australian-born activist is in a British prison awaiting extradition to the United States, where he is wanted on 18 criminal charges, including breaking spying laws.
Last Friday, British Interior Minister Priti Patel approved Assange’s extradition.
Assange’s legal team is urging the recently elected government in Canberra to demand Assange’s release from prison. It is reported that Australia is quietly lobbying for his release and has raised the case with senior United States officials.
Greg Barns is a member of Assange’s Australian-based legal team. He told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that Canberra had intervened to bring home an Australian terrorism suspect from Guantanamo Bay and a Melbourne-based academic recently detained in Iran.
“There is precedent for Australia doing this. We saw most famously the David Hicks case back in, I think, 2004 when the [former Prime Minister John] Howard government used its good offices with the Bush administration to get David Hicks back to safety from Guantanamo Bay," said Barns. "We saw it in Kylie Moore-Gilbert, for example. Simply because a case is before other jurisdictions does not mean that Australia cannot get involved.”
In a statement, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Assange’s case has “dragged on for too long and that it should be brought to a close.” She added that the Australian government could not “intervene in the legal matters of another country.”
Since it was founded in 2006, Wikileaks has released hundreds of thousands of secret classified files and diplomatic cables in what has been described as the largest security breach of its kind.
Assange has been fighting extradition to the United States since June 2019 and has indicated he plans to appeal Britain’s expulsion order.