Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Tuesday that his country will not back down from its opposition to the persecution of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, an Australian citizen who is resisting extradition from Britain on U.S. espionage allegations.
Since winning the 2022 elections, Albanese’s center-left Labour Party government has argued that the US should drop its pursuit of the 52-year-old, who has spent four years in a London prison resisting extradition.
During a visit to Australia on Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed back against the Australian position, saying Assange was accused of “very serious criminal conduct” in publishing a trove of classified US data more than a decade ago.
“I understand Australians’ concerns and points of view.” “I believe it’s critical that our friends here understand our concerns about this,” Blinken told reporters. “This has gone on for far too long,” Albanese remarked on Tuesday. “Enough is Enough.”
He informed reporters that Blinken’s public remarks reflected points raised by President Joe Biden’s administration during private meetings with Australian government leaders.
“We remain very firm in our views and representations to the American government, and we will continue to do so,” Albanese said.
Assange’s release is widely regarded as a litmus test for Australia’s leverage with the Biden administration, and was discussed in annual bilateral meetings last week in Brisbane, Australia, between Blinken and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong.
Wong told reporters on Saturday that Australia wantsthe charges “put to rest.” Australia is still undecided on whether the US should drop the prosecution or accept a plea bargain.
Assange is facing 17 counts of espionage and one count of computer misuse in connection with the disclosure of hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic and military documents by Wikileaks in 2010. American prosecutors claim he assisted US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in stealing confidential diplomatic cables and military papers that Wikileaks eventually published, putting lives in danger.
Australia claims there is a disparity in the treatment of Assange and Manning by the United States. Then-President Barack Obama shortened Manning’s 35-year sentence to seven years, allowing her release in 2017.
Assange has been held in the high-security Belmarsh Prison since he was detained in 2019 for failing to appear in court for a separate legal struggle. He had previously spent seven years inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden to face rape and sexual assault allegations. Because so much time has passed, Sweden withdrew the sex crimes investigations in 2019.
Last Thursday, Assange’s brother, Gabriel Shipton, urged Australia to put more pressure on the US.
“With each day the US administration ignores the Australian public on Julian’s freedom, Australia’s true standing in the alliance becomes clearer and clearer,” Shipton said, referring to a 1951 mutual security treaty.
The Persecution of Australian Journalist Julian Assange
Julian Assange is an Australian journalist, computer programmer, and founder of WikiLeaks, a non-profit organization that facilitates the anonymous leaking of confidential information and classified documents from governments and corporations. Assange was born on July 3, 1971, in Townsville, Queensland, Australia.
He gained widespread international attention in 2010 when WikiLeaks published a massive trove of classified U.S. military and diplomatic documents leaked by Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst. The leaks, known as the “Iraq War Logs” and “Afghan War Diary,” provided insights into the operations and decision-making processes of the United States government and military.
Following the publication of these leaks, Assange faced various legal challenges. In December 2010, he was arrested in the United Kingdom based on a European Arrest Warrant issued by Sweden, where he faced allegations of sexual misconduct. He was granted bail but sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, as he feared it might lead to his eventual extradition to the United States to face charges related to WikiLeaks’ disclosures.
Assange remained in the Ecuadorian Embassy for nearly seven years until he was arrested by British police in April 2019 after Ecuador withdrew his asylum status. The United States then requested his extradition, charging him with multiple counts of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and violating the Espionage Act for his role in publishing classified information.
Throughout his legal battles, Julian Assange has been a polarizing figure, with some considering him a hero for promoting government transparency and freedom of the press, while others view him as a threat to national security and the confidentiality of sensitive information.