A British court has ruled in favour of the United States government’s attempt to secure the extradition of Julian Assange to the US, where Assange will face criminal charges over Wikileaks.
The US government seeks to try Assange on 18 charges that include breach of espionage laws and the publication of secret government files on Wikileaks, where he is the founder and editor, in 2010-11.
In the English Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Timothy Holroyde was satisfied with the conditions that Assange would be detained in, with the case now returning to the Westminster Magistrate’s Court for a decision on whether Assange should be detained. The Westminster Magistrate’s Court had earlier ruled that concerns over Assange’s mental health and risk of suicide meant that he was not fit to be extradited. That court will now determine if, given the appropriateness of the conditions, Assange should be extradited. From there, it can be appealed up to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
The US Department of Justice alleges that Assange was involved in the publication of hundreds of thousands of files on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, posing a grave threat to US national security.
In addition, it is alleged that information on prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and a quarter of a million government messages from the US Department of State.
Assange had resided in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, providing Assange with legal protection because Ecuador did not have extradition treaties with the US or Sweden, where he was also meant to be tried on two alleged rapes. However, the Ecuadorian government revoked his legal asylum in 2019. Since then, he has been detained in the UK.
Many human rights groups have demanded that the US drop the charges against Assange, including Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, the First Amendment Coalition, and Human Rights Watch. Although noting the importance of national security, they argue that this case poses a fundamental threat to democratic journalism. Furthermore, they claim that public interest outweighs national security in relation to the publication of classified documents.
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Nils Melzer criticised the court’s verdict as being “politically motivated.”
There is also pressure from Australian politicians for the Australian government to get involved to protect Assange, who is an Australian citizen. George Christensen, a Liberal MP who is considered by many to be a rogue, has been one of the most vocal supporters of Assange. Senator Rex Patrick has also voiced his support for Assange and has called out Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce for abandoning his earlier support for Assange.
Labor MP Julian Hill criticised President Joe Biden over Biden’s calls for freedom of the press while also prosecuting Assange, and also labelled Assange’s trial a “political witch-hunt.”
Greens politicians, including party leader Adam Bandt and Senator Janet Rice, have also demanded that the government must bring him home. Andrew Wilkie, a former Greens MP and now an independent, referred to the treatment of Assange as “lunacy.”
The Australian government needs to intervene and bring Assange home. Assange has done valuable work as a journalist, exposing US war crimes by releasing classified documents. The refusal of the Australian government to act, and the failure of Labor leadership to hold the LNP government accountable over the Assange trial demonstrates that Canberra would rather kowtow to Washington than defend an Australian citizen who has not been found guilty of any crimes.
As a sovereign nation, Australia has the independence to act differently from the US government, yet continues to follow America’s dictates. Siding with America gives Australia more credibility with the US government; however, given the fact that US-Australian relations are already strong, as demonstrated with the recent AUKUS alliance, that is not really needed. If anything, it proves to the US that Australia is so obedient and subservient that they would rather prosecute one of their own than dare disagree with the US.
China already considers Australia to be a puppet of America, and through the Chinese state-run media, the Global Times, Beijing has called for the need for Australia to exercise its “strategic autonomy.” Not only would Australia increase its international standing by defending journalistic rights and freedom of speech that it claims to value as a democracy, Australia would also demonstrate to the world that it is more than just America’s 51st state.
It will take international pressure on America for Assange to be freed, as internal pressure on Donald Trump to free Assange on Trump’s last day in office was unsuccessful. As America’s ally and the home of Assange, Australia is better positioned than most to achieve this.
If Australia truly values journalism, the freedom of speech, and its sovereignty, the government needs to be willing to stand up for Assange, against his persecution by the US government. Freedom of speech is on the line.
Stuart Jeffery, aka LibertyDownUnder, is the founder of the Australian Liberty Network. He is also the host of the Gumtree of Liberty and Gumtree of Liberty Live podcasts, and is editor of the Liberty Review. Stuart is currently studying a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts, majoring in international relations, at the University of Southern Queensland.