48 Australian politicians have signed an open letter to U.S. Attorney-General Merrick Garland to free Julian Assange and allow him to return home to Australia.
Assange has been in legal limbo for over a decade and is currently in prison in the UK. The U.S. is seeking his transfer to face charges for publishing sensitive government documents.
The letter, signed by politicians from across the political spectrum, says the charges set a “dangerous precedent” for freedom of the press.
Who is Julian Assange?
Julian Assange, an Australian citizen, founded the website Wikileaks in 2006.
Wikileaks obtained and published hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. government documents. They revealed details on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including footage of a U.S. air strike that killed civilians. They also included diplomatic material with personal assessments of many world leaders.
It was the largest military security breach in U.S. history.
Assange was arrested in the UK in 2010 over rape charges in Sweden, which were later dropped.
In 2012, he took refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London after its government granted him political asylum.
In 2019, Ecuador revoked his asylum and the U.S. charged him with breaking espionage (spying) laws over the classified material. He was then taken to a UK prison where he awaits possible ‘extradition’ (forced removal to the U.S. to face charges).
Defenders of Assange say the charges are a threat to freedom of the press.
U.S. Justice Department officials have denied Assange is a journalist, and have accused him of risking the lives of U.S. military informants by failing to redact (censor) their names. Assange’s lawyers have maintained he was careful to avoid publishing informants’ names.
If convicted, Assange could face life in prison. The U.S. has promised he could serve any sentence in an Australian prison.
The Australian Government could ask the U.S. to drop the charges against Assange. The Government has stated publicly the case has “dragged on for too long [and] should be brought to a close”.
It has not publicly asked for the charges to be dropped but is believed to be working behind the scenes to secure his release.
Letter calls to free Julian Assange
The letter was signed by 48 politicians from across the political spectrum.
It included all 15 federally-elected Greens as well as 13 Labor backbenchers, 12 independents, six MPs from the Coalition, the United Australia Party’s Ralph Babet and One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts.
Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, who called for Assange’s release when he was Deputy Prime Minister, also signed the letter.
“The charges pertain to Mr Assange’s actions, as a journalist and publisher for WikiLeaks, in publishing information with evidence of war crimes, corruption and human rights abuses… This would set a dangerous precedent for all global citizens, journalists, publishers, media organisations and the freedom of the press,” the letter reads.
“A clear majority of Australians consider that this matter has gone on for far too long and must be brought to a close.”