NSWCCL recently joined other organisations and individuals in reaffirming our support for Julian Assange in the context of his fight against extradition to the USA. We spoke at the Assange rally in Sydney in February and subsequently sent a public letter to the Prime Minister urging the Australian Government to take effective action to support Assange in his fight against extradition and assist his return to Australia.
Assange’s situation is desperate and dangerous. His mental and physical health have been seriously compromised. He is imprisoned in a London gaol with limited capacity to communicate with his legal team. If he is extradited to the USA, he will face charges which will expose him to a likely outcome of life imprisonment in a high security gaol.
The relentless pursuit of Julian Assange over the last decade has been politically motivated, cruel and unjustifiable. In our view he has not engaged in criminal activity. Assange and wikileaks published truthful information about shocking and wrongful activities - including war crimes - which had been kept secret.
The public had an unquestionable right to know about these actions done in their name. Their publication constituted public interest journalism for which NSWCCL will continue to defend Assange.
The implications of this pursuit of Assange go well beyond his personal fate. The determination of the USA to capture and severely punish Assange is a politically motivated enterprise aimed not only at him, but at warning off future whistle-blowers and journalists who might contemplate exposing secret US Government information in the public interest.
The calculated decision to charge Assange under the US Espionage Act 1917 is particularly disturbing. If Assange is successfully prosecuted for these offences, it will have global implications for journalists and the free press and will challenge the strength of protection provided to journalists by the First Amendment’s prohibition of any US law ‘abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press’.
Australian government’s lack of action
The Australian Government appears to have abandoned Assange to the UK and US processes despite his being an Australian citizen and despite the obvious political agenda driving this long pursuit of Assange.
The extradition case will go on for some months and when the court does make a decision, it is almost certain that one side or another will appeal. If the court eventually authorises extradition the UK Government will make the political decision as to whether or not to proceed with it.
It is vital that, if necessary, the Australian Government does all it can to effectively intercede on Assange’s behalf to influence this ultimate political decision by the UK Government. We have urged the government to:
- begin, political and diplomatic overtures to the UK Government to stop the politically motivated procedure to extradite Julian Assange to the USA and to facilitate his return to Australia.
- with regard to his extradition case, use its diplomatic and political access to urge the UK Government to ensure that Julian Assange has adequate private and confidential access to his legal team and that his treatment within the court is fair and reasonable and allows him to clearly see and hear all proceedings and communicate as appropriate with his legal team.
- publicly clarify that should Assange return to Australia the Government would not facilitate his extradition to the USA.