A delegation of Australian members of parliament met with US officials in Washington on Wednesday and called for the release of WikiLeaks founder and Australian citizen Julian Assange, who faces up to 175 years in prison if extradited to the US and convicted for exposing US war crimes.
The delegation includes six MPs from different ends of the political spectrum in a show of unity aimed at freeing Assange. More than 60 Australian MPs also signed a letter in support of the trip that called for the US to drop the charges against the WikiLeaks founder.
After meeting with Biden administration officials at the Department of Justice in Washington, the Australian delegation held a press conference and said they would keep up the pressure on the US. Barnaby Joyce, the leader of Australia’s National Party and former deputy prime minister, said Assange was only guilty of being a journalist.
“Literally, all sides of politics have come together and united on this one key message, which is that an Australian citizen, Julian Assange, should come home,” Joyce said, according to Fox News.
“The only crime that we see that Julian Assange has been charged with is the crime of being a journalist, the crime of telling the truth. And the fact that it’s an Australian citizen that has been targeted by one of our closest friends and allies is a very real concern to us as politicians and to a growing part of the Australian public,” he added.
Assange is being pursued by the US for publishing documents obtained from a source, Chelsea Manning, a standard journalistic practice. If Assange is convicted, it would have grave implications for press freedom in the US and around the world.
“If you look at what’s actually transpired here, the person who was responsible, we understand, for the leak had their sentence commuted. That was Chelsea Manning,” Alex Antic, a Liberal Party senator, told Fox. “We are dealing with a situation where the publisher is now still being pursued under those circumstances. We have been saying we find it puzzling. I can’t see how there wouldn’t be a chilling effect on the free press if this was allowed to proceed.”
During their time in Washington, the delegation is also meeting with members of Congress. Their trip comes ahead of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s planned visit to Washington. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently rejected Australia’s concerns over Assange, but Albanese insisted his government would remain “firm” on the issue.