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Sunday, 22 November 2020 07:12

Time for Scott Morrison to request Biden to free Julian Assange Featured

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Courtesy YouTube

With the Democrat Joe Biden set to take over as the next US president on 20 January 2021, it is high time for Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to make contact with him and discuss the matter of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange if Canberra is, as it claims, serious about providing assistance to the man and helping him go free.

Assange is currently held in a high-security prison in Belmarsh in the UK, after a hearing to decide whether he would be extradited to the US ended last month. A decision is expected to be announced in January 2021.

He faces criminal charges for publishing classified information that was leaked to WikiLeaks by an American soldier, then known as Bradley Manning, but now, after gender reassignment surgery, known as Chelsea Manning.

Until now, Australia has done the bare minimum to help Assange because it did not want to annoy its American protector. But Barack Obama, while president, had decided that he could not sue Assange without also suing some of the world's major newspapers, and hence abandoned the idea. Biden was Obama's vice-president at the time.

As American journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote: "...the Obama DoJ concluded such a prosecution would pose a severe threat to press freedom because there would be no way to prosecute Assange for publishing classified documents without also prosecuting The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian and others for doing exactly the same thing."

Assange, one of Australia's best known hackers, was involved in attacks on several American government organisations in the 1980s, at a time when he went by the moniker Mendax.

WikiLeaks exposed the cynicism and savagery that Washington displays in combat areas, when it released a video titled Collateral Murder that showed unarmed Iraqi civilians being gunned down by an American helicopter in Iraq.

Assange was arrested by British police on 11 April 2019 and removed from the Ecuador embassy where he had taken refuge. His asylum was withdrawn shortly before he was arrested and he appeared in court shortly thereafter. The US made a formal request for his extradition on 6 June 2019.

Whenever Australian authorities have been asked about Assange, their stock response has been that he is being provided the same consular assistance as any other citizen would be. Now, given the circumstances, it is time for Canberra to stir itself and push for saving his life.

He has done nothing more than any journalist would and no journalist has been imprisoned in Australia for publishing stories based on leaked information. The same applies in the US.

The last time Australia approached the US seeking clemency for someone, it was in the case of David Hicks who had been arrested in Afghanistan on alleged charges of terrorism. John Howard made a personal appeal to Dick Cheney, telling the then US vice-president that Hicks had become an election issue for him.

Cheney pushed for a plea bargain and Hicks was sent back to Australia within a few months.

It is time for Morrison to use any credits he has in Washington DC and ask for Assange to be released. The man is still an Australian citizen and deserves his freedom.


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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