Australia’s new prime minister has rejected calls for him to publicly demand Washington drop its extradition request of WikiLeaks founder and Australian citizen Julian Assange.
British Home Secretary Priti Patel approved Friday Assange’s extradition to the US, where he faces up to 175 years in prison on charges of espionage for exposing US war crimes. Assange can appeal the ruling, and his legal team plans to do so, but the new Australian government has ruled out putting public pressure on President Biden to drop the charges.
Speaking to reporters in Australia on Monday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who took office on May 23, declined to say whether or not he has spoken with Biden about Assange. Albanese also criticized people pressuring him to do something about the case online.
“There are some people who think that if you put things in capital letters on Twitter and put an exclamation mark, that somehow makes it more important. It doesn’t,” Albanese said. “I intend to lead a government that engages diplomatically and appropriately with our partners.”
The previous Australian government under Scott Morrison also refused to push the US to drop the extradition request. John Carr, a former Australian foreign minister and former premier of New South Wales, wrote in The Syndey Morning Herald that “the Morrison government declined even the faintest whinny of protest” when the Trump administration first pursued Assange’s extradition.
“It was as if we were not a sovereign government but some category of US territory like Puerto Rico and an Australian passport holder didn’t rate protection from the vengeful anger of one corner of the American security apparatus,” Carr wrote.
Carr said that he believes if Albanese asks for the US to drop the charges against Assange, Washington will oblige. He said Albanese could point to the fact that the US commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former Army private who leaked to Assange the documents Washington wants to prosecute him for publishing.
If Assange is extradited and prosecuted for publishing information, it would have grave implications for the freedom of the press inside the US and around the globe. “This decision is a grave threat to freedom of speech, not just for Julian, but for every journalist, editor, and media worker,” Assange lawyer Jennifer Robinson said at a press conference in London following Patel’s decision, Consortium News reported. Robinson said Assange’s legal team has two weeks to file an appeal to London’s High Court, and the US has 10 days to respond after that.
Last year, in a bombshell report, Yahoo News revealed that the CIA in 2017 under then-Director Mike Pompeo, plotted to kidnap and discussed assassinating Assange over WikiLeaks’ release of documents that detailed the spy agency’s hacking tools, known as Vault 7. Stella Assange, the wife of the WikiLeaks founder, said the plot will be raised in the appeal.