‘Let him come home’: majority of MPs support motion to free Assange


Let’s not forget that in 2010 Julian Assange, through WikiLeaks, revealed hard evidence of US war crimes and other misconduct in Iraq, in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay.

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Lawyers for Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange will seek leave to appeal against a 2022 decision to allow him to be extradited to the United States on espionage charges during a two-day High Court hearing in London that starts next Tuesday.

By Jacquelene Pearson

According to the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), “this hearing is Assange’s final avenue in the UK justice system to fight his extradition to the US where he faces 18 charges that could result in a maximum 175 years in prison”.

Last week in the House of Representatives, the lower house in Australia’s national parliament, independent MP, Andrew Wilkie, moved a motion that noted the High Court in the United Kingdom would hold a hearing on February 20 and 21 into whether the Walkley Award winning journalist, Julian Assange, could appeal against his extradition to the United States.

“Mr Assange remains incarcerated in HMP Belmarsh in the UK, awaiting a decision on whether he can be extradited to the USA to face charges for material published in 2010 which revealed shocking evidence of misconduct by the USA,” Mr Wilkie, who is the Member for Clark in Tasmania stated.

“Both the Australian Government and opposition have publicly stated that this matter has gone on faor too long,” Mr Wilkie’s motion stated. The motion underlined “the importance of the UK and USA bringing the matter to a close so that Mr Assange can return home to his family in Australia.”

The motion was seconded by Josh Wilson, the Member for Fremantle.

Just about out of time

Speaking in favour of the motion, Mr Wilkie said: “Sadly, we’ve just about run out of time to save Julian Assange.

“If Mr Assange is unsuccessful next week in the UK High Court of Justice, the frightful reality is that he could be on a plane to the United States of America within hours.

“Good God! This man has already been in Belmarsh high-security prison in London for about five years. This is the prison for the worst of the worst in the UK. It is where they put mass murderers and terrorists.

“It is where a prisoner was knifed and killed, elsewhere in the prison, the very afternoon I visited Julian Assange… Of course, the five years in Belmarsh followed some seven years holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy.

“Surely this man has suffered enough. The matter must be brought to an end. But if he is unsuccessful next week in the London court, he could be on a plane within hours to another court—this time in the United States of America—where he’ll be facing 17 charges under the US Espionage Act and one charge under the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

“If he is convicted, he will be facing 175 years in prison in the United States. In other words, if he is extradited, perhaps as soon as next week, he will be handed, more or less, a death sentence.

“Why? It is because this Walkley Award winning journalist did his job. It’s as simple as that. He did his job.

“Let’s not forget that in 2010 Julian Assange, through WikiLeaks, revealed hard evidence of US war crimes and other misconduct in Iraq, in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay.

“Who could possibly forget the grainy image, provided to WikiLeaks by a brave whistleblower, that subsequently was released under the title ‘collateral murder’?

“It was footage of a US attack helicopter gunning down and killing innocent civilians and Reuters journalists in a street in Iraq. We only know of that because Julian Assange made us aware of it. He was doing his job. He was exercising every right he has as a journalist to tell us about wrongdoing.

“The injustice of all this is absolutely breathtaking—absolutely breathtaking—as much as the attack on journalism is terrifying because if this matter runs to its shameful conclusion, then it will have set a precedent that applies to all Australian journalists.

“If ever any Australian journalist annoys a foreign government in any way, and if that government is a government that the Australian government is hoping to curry favour with, then who’s to say that the Australian government won’t be complicit in the extradition or the transport of that Australian journalist to that country?

“What happens if an Australian journalist offends China at a time we’re seeking to improve our relationship with China? The precedent will have been set that that journalist may well find him or herself on a plane to China.

“What about if we’re trying to curry favour with Saudi Arabia and an Australian journalist writes something that offends Saudi Arabia? Will the Australian government come to that Australian journalist’s aid? Well, the precedent will have been set and no Australian journalist can be confident they will be safe in the future if this extradition goes ahead.

“The importance of this is so great that I will be certainly jumping on a plane next Tuesday, hoping to be in London for the second day of the court hearing. I think it’s very important that a member of this parliament bears witness to what is going on in London next week, to stand with Julian’s family and to offer them some comfort and to communicate to Julian Assange and his family and his legal team the widespread support already in this parliament.

‘Let him come home’

“Let’s not forget there are dozens of members of this parliament who are members of the Bring Julian Assange Home Parliamentary Group.

“Almost one-third of this parliament signed an open letter to the US government not that long ago calling for this matter to be brought to an end. Today, in this place, shortly, this will be the time for all of us to stand up and to take a stand: to stand with Julian Assange, to stand for the principles of justice and to stand for the principles of media freedom and the rights of journalists to do their jobs.

“I’m hopeful that I can go to London next week and make it clear to the British government and, through the media, to the US government that the Australian parliament stands as one and calls for this matter to be brought to an end.

“Regardless of what you might think of Julian Assange, and I acknowledge in this place there’s a range of views—there are people who loathe the man, there are people who worship the man, but I’ll tell you what: no matter which end of that spectrum you are positioned, just about everyone agrees this has gone on too long, that it must be brought to an end.

“I’m confident that if this parliament can support this motion this afternoon, it will send a very powerful political signal to the British government and to the US government. It will send a very powerful signal to the British government that it should not entertain the idea of Mr Assange being extradited to the US. It will send a very powerful signal to Washington that Australia stands as one saying that this matter has gone on long enough.

“Regardless of what you might think of Mr Assange, justice is not being served in this case now. In any case, he’s suffered enough. For heaven’s sakes, something like five years in Belmarsh, about seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy. How much is enough? This is the afternoon where this parliament takes a stand and says enough is enough, and that we call on the US and we call on the UK to let him out of prison, drop the charges, let him be rejoined with his family, let him come home.”

In seconding the motion, Mr Josh Wilson said: “Make no mistake, the Australian community wants to see Julian Assange go free. While there may be a range of views about Mr Assange… his further incarceration and prosecution are seen by many to represent an injustice, and that’s my personal view; it is not shared by everyone.

“The open letter from the co-convenor of the Bring Julian Assange Home Parliamentary Friendship Group, which includes the member for Clarke and the member for Bass—with whom I am glad to share this debate—was signed by 63 members of the Australian parliament. It is significant that both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have been clear in saying that the matter should come to an end.

“The Prime Minister has properly raised a matter of Julian Assange with the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom and that marks a shift from what occurred previously. In May last year, the Prime Minister said ‘enough is enough ‘when it comes to the ongoing incarceration of Julian Assange, and also said ‘there is nothing to be served’ by the ongoing incarceration of Julian Assange.

“We should remember that Julian Assange has been now imprisoned for a considerable period without having being convicted of any substantial charge. He is an Australian citizen being pursued under the United States Espionage Act for the dissemination of material the United States regards as secret.

“The same material has been published without legal consequence by media organisations in the US.

“The open letter I referred to earlier was published in the Washington Post. The co-convernors wrote and 63 parliamentarians signed up to the statement that it is wrong for Mr Assange to be further persecuted and denied his liberty. When one considers the duration and circumstances of the detention he has already suffered, it serves no purpose. The letter concluded by saying:

We note with gratitude the considerable support in the United States for an end to the legal pursuit of Mr Assange from members of Congress, human rights advocates, academics, and civil society, and from within the US media in defence of free speech and independent journalism.

Open and proper scrutiny

“In acknowledging the death of American whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg last year, I noted his support for and solidarity with Julian Assange.

“Daniel Ellsberg was responsible for exposing some of the details of the circumstances of the Vietnam War. In a 2021 interview he said in relation to Julian, ‘Look, I was available for people to point to and say, We support good whistleblowers, but that is just ridiculous. Whatever he is guilty of, I’m guilty of. I identify with him completely. The notion that he is guilty of something that I the good guy wasn’t is false.’

“We must never forget that, contrary to the idea that our safety and wellbeing depends more than anything else on secrecy, the reality is that our safety and wellbeing is at enormous risk when the most grave applications of state power are not held to account.

“In truth, the distinctive and most precious quality of all liberal democracies, including our own, is the capacity to apply open and proper scrutiny to all decision-making but especially decision-making that involves military action or the infringement of civil liberties through a security apparatus.

“There are many in the United States and in the United Kingdom, in the media, in the Congress and in civil society that share the view that, when it comes to Julian Assange, enough is enough.”

Liberal Member for Bass, Bridget Archer, also spoke in favour of the motion.

“For more than 4½ thousand days and counting, Julian Assange has not experienced true freedom.

“We know that his life is at risk. His lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, recently said:

Because of the treatment he has suffered, he suffers a major depressive illness, he has been diagnosed as being on the [autism] spectrum, and the medical evidence is if he was extradited to the United States those conditions would cause him to commit suicide. So his life is at risk and I am not exaggerating that.

Natural justice and human dignity

“The ongoing prosecution of Mr Assange offends my sense of natural justice, my sense of human dignity and my sense of fairness. He’s an Australian citizen who has endured terrible conditions and has suffered significant mental and physical challenges as a result of his ongoing incarceration due to the lengthy legal battle.

“It’s not clear to me that Mr Assange committed any crime in the jurisdiction of the United States, and the pursuit of him by American authorities even now is an overreach and does not serve the interests of justice.

“Even if Mr Assange were guilty of a crime, which I’m not sure is true, and there were due punishment, hasn’t he already served that punishment?

“It is worth noting that the person who gathered the information published by WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning, has been free for the past seven years. Is it not ultimately a matter of fairness? The ongoing prosecution and, indeed, persecution of Mr Assange does not serve the interests of justice or human dignity. He ought to be released from custody and allowed to return to Australia with his family.

I echo the words of fellow parliamentary group member the member for Bruce, who has said:

There can never be a legal solution to this case. It is inherently political.

I also agree with barrister Greg Barns SC, adviser to the Australian Assange Campaign, who said:

Of course, some say the Assange case must be allowed to take its course via the courts because extradition is a legal process. While that is true in the vast majority of cases this is an exceptional set of circumstances. In that sense it is like the case of David Hicks … Rightly that case was resolved via the political relationship between the Howard government here and the Bush Administration because it too was a case infused with a political overlay.

Now is the time to end a dangerous threat to basic freedoms and the rule of law.

“We have previously managed to secure the safe return of Australian citizens under difficult diplomatic circumstances, and we have a responsibility to do the same for Mr Assange.

I called on the previous government to step up and stand up to bring Mr Assange home, and I am pleased that his case now has some bipartisan support from the leaders of both parties, who acknowledge that enough is enough.

“Surely we can all agree that we do not want to see an Australian citizen continue to languish in a foreign prison. Enough is enough.”

The final speaker in favour of the motion was Greens Leader and Member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt.

“It is perhaps more critical now than ever that we speak, hopefully with one voice, to make it clear that it is time to bring Julian Assange home,” Mr Bandt said describing Mr Assange as “a brave Australian whistleblower and journalist”.

“The offence he is charged with, ultimately, is telling the public the truth about the appalling conduct of the US military in the illegal invasion of Iraq.

Grave health risk

“The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment visited Julian in May 2019 and even at that stage reported serious concerns about his detention and his health.

“Now, years later, we have a situation where the very next thing that might happen to Julian Assange is his transport to the United States. And let’s be clear that, given Julian’s health, any sentence of imprisonment under the notorious US Espionage Act and extradition to the US would almost certainly be a death sentence. It cannot be allowed to come to that.

“That is a large part of the reason you see so many people from across the political spectrum saying it has gone on for far too long. He is now facing a grave risk to his life because it has gone on for far too long. That is why the critical next step must be to ensure that Julian Assange is brought home.

“As a result of the 2010 and 2011 work of Wikileaks, media organisations around the world published information that showed that US military operations engaged in attacks on civilians and other atrocities, including images that we must never forget, like the chilling video now known as Collateral Murder.

“Chelsea Manning, a former US soldier who was involved in leaking many of these classified documents, has already been released from prison after their sentence was commuted by former US President Obama. But Julian remains locked up.

“There is global support for Julian Assange to be returned home, and this is particularly strong in Australia, as it should be.

“He has become symbolic of journalists around the world who face attacks on press freedom, often shrinking government accountability and, in some jurisdictions, persecution ranging from political prosecutions through to murder.

“This sets an incredibly chilling precedent for journalists in the future and for journalists’ ability to hold governments to account, to say uncomfortable things about governments—things that might be uncomfortable for their own government—and to know that you can tell the truth without facing imprisonment and without facing a risk to your own life.

“I will also note that prime minister after prime minister in this place has signed Australia up to AUKUS, an arrangement that, in our view, is one where Australia fronts up with a chequebook and does what it’s told to do by the other partners.

“If governments think that participation in the AUKUS agreement and alliance is so critical, surely part of that should be the insistence on human rights and the proper treatment of our citizens—of Australian citizens. If we are sitting around a table with these governments, we should be able to insist that Julian Assange is brought home.

The motion was passed by a majority of the Members of the House of Representatives, 86 votes to 42. You can see how your MP voted here

Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, is recorded as voting against the motion but Prime Minister Anthony Albanese voted in support of the motion.

The right thing to do

On February 15 Andrew Wilkie asked Prime Minister Anthony Albanese a question without notice about the significance of the motion moved by the House the previous day.

“Prime Minister, a great many Australians would have been thrilled by the House of Representatives, including you and your government, voting yesterday in favour of my motion stressing the importance of bringing the Julian Assange matter to a close so he can come home to his family. Prime Minister, what is the significance of this,” Wilkie asked during Question Time.

“We supported the motion yesterday because it is the right thing to do,” Prime Minister Albanese responded.

“Across the chamber—including some members of the National Party and Liberal Party over a period of time, crossbenchers, the minor parties and, of course, members of the Australian Labor Party—people would have a range of views about the merits of Mr Julian Assange’s actions. They have come to the common view—a view that has also been put by the Leader of the Opposition—that enough is enough and that it is time for this to be brought to a close.

“From the very first occasions where I had an opportunity as Prime Minister, I have raised this issue at the highest levels with the United States and with the United Kingdom—with people at the highest levels and throughout the structures.

“It has been raised by our diplomats as well, including the ambassador to the United States and the high commissioner to the United Kingdom, who has visited Mr Assange in prison as well, to check on his welfare.

“The Australian government, in my view, always has a responsibility to make representations to governments, as we have for Cheng Lei, for example, in China, and as we have with the range of people who find themselves in difficulty—with successes, it must be said, also in Vietnam and Myanmar in recent times.

“It is important that we have a calibrated and deliberate approach to this engagement. We are continuing to do that, including the discussions that have taken place over a considerable period of time with Mr Assange’s lawyers.

“But the resolution is important. I congratulate the Member on bringing that resolution before this parliament, because it’s important to send that message.

“In the coming days, there’ll be a critical period as well. I hope this can be resolved. I hope it can be resolved amicably. It’s not up to Australia to interfere in the legal processes of other countries, but it is appropriate for us to put our very strong view that those countries need to take into account the need for this to be concluded.”

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