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Journalist Amy Fallon on the extradition of Julian Assange and the test it sets for our political leaders.

Could a phone call stop Julian Assange’s extradition?

Read Transcript

Right now, the UK government is deliberating on whether to sign-off on the extradition of Australian Julian Assange to the US. 

If that happens, Assange — who was charged with espionage offences in relation to material published on Wikileaks — faces charges that could result in a 175-year sentence.

But the Australian election has given Assange’s family and supporters renewed hope. So, will a change in government change the fate of the Wikileaks founder?

Today, journalist Amy Fallon on the extradition of Julian Assange and the test it sets for our political leaders.

 

Guest: Journalist, Amy Fallon.

 
Read Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

 

RUBY:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am

 

Right now, the UK government is deliberating on whether to sign-off on the extradition of Australian Julian Assange to the US. 

 

If that happens, Assange, who was charged with espionage offenses in relation to material published on Wikileaks - faces being locked up for the rest of his life.

 

But the Australian election has given Assange’s family and supporters renewed hope. So, will a change in government change the fate of the wikileaks founder?

 

Today - journalist Amy Fallon - on the extradition of Julian Assange and the test it sets for our political leaders.

 

It’s Monday June 6.

 

[Theme Music Ends]

RUBY:
Amy, for the past few years, Julian Assange has been in jail in the UK, waiting to hear whether or not he'll be extradited to the US to face these espionage charges against him. So maybe a good place for us to start is to talk about exactly where his his case is at at the moment. What is the latest?

AMY:
Mm. So the latest that we're hearing from the UK Home Office is that the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is actually required to make a decision on the extradition within two months of the date the case is sent. 

Archival Tape:
“After a decade long legal battle, the fate of Julian Assange now rests in the hands of Britain's Home Secretary, Priti Patel.”

AMY:
Now the court decided to send the case to Priti Patel on April the 20th. 

Archival Tape:
“His lawyers argue that his extradition to the US on espionage charges should be blocked because he was acting as a journalist to expose military wrongdoing and is entitled to First Amendment protections.”

AMY:
That means that the decision is expected very soon, within about the next three weeks. But his campaign said that they are expecting the outcome to be negative and they say that they will appeal the decision. This will trigger an appeal of the previous court's rejected points that Julian Assange, his team, lost on. He faces up to 175 years in jail, and that's most likely in strict 24 hour isolation in a supermax jail in the US. So it looks like it will be about another three weeks until we have a decision from the Home Secretary. And in that time, Julian Assange remains incarcerated in the Street Belmarsh Prison in South London.

RUBY:
Hmm. Okay. Well, let's talk a bit about how Julian Assange ended up in this situation, because this goes back almost a decade now when Julian Assange first walked into the Ecuadorian embassy in London seeking asylum.

AMY:
Yes, that's right.

Assange had been wanted since August 2010 by Sweden on a suspected rape and other claims. Following that, he entered London's Ecuadorian embassy in June 2012, and two months later, the country granted him asylum, saying that there were fears that his human rights would be violated if he was extradited. 

Archival Tape -- Assange:
“I don't have too many fears about being extradited to Sweden. There are much bigger concerns about being extradited to United States.”

AMY:
And he actually remained holed up there for a total of seven years. Sweden abandoned two of the allegations and later dropped the rape allegation. And in 2019, he was indicted with conspiring with US whistleblower Chelsea manning to gain access to a government computer as part of a 2010 leaked by WikiLeaks.

Archival Tape -- News Tape: 
“That breaking news, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrested in London after seven years of asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy. The Ecuadorian government released Assange's for British authorities and he could now face charges in the U.S.”

AMY:
Now, this is from his time as editor in chief of non-profit whistleblowing site WikiLeaks, which he founded in 2006. And it went on to publish nearly 400,000 classified military documents from the Iraq war in 2010. And then, of course, in quite dramatic scenes, Julian Assange was arrested at the embassy in April 2019 and has been in the maximum security prison Belmarsh ever since. 

Archival Tape -- News Tape:
“The new government of Ecuador abruptly withdrew its protection of Assange this morning, inviting British authorities in and they frog marched him out.” 

AMY:
His new wife, Stella Assange says she actually told me in Brussels last month that the case could end today if the Australian Government decided to do something about it.

Archival Tape -- Stella Assange:
“All the Australian Government has to do is pick up the phone. If the Australian Prime Minister says this should come to an end, Julian should come home. The US Government will listen.” 

AMY:
She insists that Australia has a duty to protect its citizens and she says by failing to act it's not just negligent, it shows that whoever is in office that isn't acting is not fit for office. So those are some of the legal options for Julian Assange at the moment. 

RUBY:
Hmm. Well, let's talk a little bit more about that, because obviously we've just had a change of government in Australia. So what do we know then about how the new Prime Minister, about how Anthony Albanese views Assange, his case?

AMY:
I think it's fair to say that Anthony Albanese is a supporter and in terms of others I would say that he is somewhat sympathetic to Assange. When asked in a caucus meeting in 2021 for his views on the imprisonment of Julian Assange, he said Enough is enough.

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
“Well, I've I've said before that I fail to see what purpose is being served by the ongoing incarceration of Julian Assange. There's been a heavy price paid.” 

AMY:
John Shipton, Julian's father, also recently said that he had met with Anthony Albanese several times in the past and been assured that he would do whatever he could to free Julian Assange. And his latest comments this week. When pressed on the issue Anthony Albanese said

Archival Tape -- Reporter:
“As Prime Minister. Is it now your position that the US should be encouraged to drop the charges against Mr. Assange? And have you made any representations to that effect?” 

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
“My position is that not all foreign affairs is best done with the loud hailer.”

AMY:
So I think the interpretation of that is probably that well possibly I will raise this issue, but it might be done, you know, on the sidelines quietly. It is worth pointing out that Penny Wong spoke recently and said as an Australian citizen he's entitled to consular assistance.

Archival Tape -- Penny Wong:
“The Prime Minister has expressed that it's hard to say what is served by keeping Mr. Assange incarcerated and expressed a view that it's time for the case to be brought to an end.”

AMY:
And it's worth pointing out that members of the Parliamentary bring Julian Home group now total 30. That's expected to increase. So there's plenty of political support for Albanese to ensure Julian Assange does not face an effective death penalty of over 175 years for revealing the truth about war crimes. 

RUBY:
Hmm. Okay. So I mean, what can the Australian Government really do in a situation like this? What Assange supporters are urging the Australian Government to do - is it put pressure on the U.S. to retract the charges and I mean, is that even possible? Can you kind of talk to me a bit about the practicalities of something like this?

AMY:
Yeah, sure. Assange supporters essentially want Anthony Albanese to pick up the phone and speak to Joe Biden about this immediately and say enough is enough. They want the Australian Government to intervene immediately. They say that, you know, this is an Australian citizen and that their life is on the line and that the Australian Government has a duty to protect its citizens. Of course, whether such an approach will work, it does remain to be seen. One would think that if our relationship with the US is as good as we say it is, then we ought to be able to raise this concern about an Australian citizen. But one will have to wait and see whether. This case is raised through diplomatic channels and whether that is made public or whether that is done. But it's done quietly.

We'll be back in a moment. 

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RUBY:
Amy right now two people have a say over Assange’s fate - the new Australian Prime Minister, and the British Home Minister. That is Priti Patel - and they’re due to decide whether or not to sign off on his extradition order in the next few weeks. So if they do do that, if they do sign off on that extradition, what is likely to happen next? Are there other legal avenues left for Assange? 

AMY:
If they sign off on the extradition? Julian Assange, his team, have indicated that they will appeal the decision that will trigger an appeal of the previous court's rejected points that Assange, his team, lost on. So the case will go back for appeal in the British court system. And experts say that that could then mean another six months that the case is held up. Depending on what happens with that case, then the next port of call would be the European Court of Human Rights. And Assange's legal team have indicated that although they hope that they are successful in having the British courts resolve the case, they will make an application to the court if necessary. They say that the case is too important from a free speech point of view, but also from a humanitarian point of view, because they know what the medical evidence is about Julian's mental health and that he will find a way to commit suicide if extradited. So it's too important for them not to win. 

RUBY:
Yeah. I mean, I suppose that kind of goes to this question of, you know, while all of this is playing out, while these kind of this legal back and forth happens, what is life actually like for for Julian Assange?

AMY:
Life is very grim for Julian Assange at the moment. He remains incarcerated in the maximum security prison, Belmarsh in south London. We know that in October, Assange, who has Asperger's syndrome, suffered a mini stroke and independent doctors have warned that it could be a precursor for something much more devastating. His wife, Stella, says that for every new health problem, he's receiving more medication, which also carries its own risks. And so she says that she is worried that he is deteriorating to such an extent that the damage will be irreversible. So life is not very good for Julian Assange at the moment as he awaits the next step in his case. 

RUBY:
Mhm. And there are obviously several layers to this case, Amy, because you have Julian, the person who's incarcerated, you also have the question of, of press freedom. And then on top of that, there's this consideration that you alluded to earlier about, you know, what this can kind of tell us about the relationship between Australia and the US and the ways in which it's going to test that.

AMY:
Yes, that's right. Probably for a lot of people, they view this case as just being about Julian Assange. The man thought as his team and his supporters point out, is much more about that. There are issues such as press freedom and freedom of expression and protection for journalists and whistleblowers at stake here. 

RUBY:
And if those are the issues at stake, what kind of test is it for the politicians who are weighing up whether to sign off on this extradition and for others, whether they’ll intervene to try and stop it?

AMY:
Yes, it is a test for Home Secretary Priti Patel and for the new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. In the UK. Followers and supporters of Julian Assange actually say that Priti Patel, his legacy is at stake here. They don't want the extradition to go ahead. And as they've pointed out, it would go against Britain's international obligations. In Australia, employees such as Andrew Wilkie have been pointing out that it is a test for Anthony Albanese and Julian Assange's supporters, such as lawyer and human rights activist Kelly Tran, to point out that yes, it's a test for him, it's a test of the Australia US alliance, but also it's a test to see how he measures up on human rights and on protecting an Australian citizen. Hmm. 

RUBY:
Amy, thank you so much for talking to me about all of this today.

AMY:
Thanks so much, Ruby. Thanks for having me.

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RUBY:
Also in the news today 

 

The Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is in Jakarta to meet with Indonesian president Joko Widodo.

 

The agenda for the three-day visit includes talks on trade, climate change and energy.

 

And 

 

The Australian Defence Department has accused the Chinese military of a dangerous maneuver in international airspace.

 

According to Defence, a Chinese aircraft intercepted an Australian surveillance aircraft in the South China Sea region.

 

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see you tomorrow.

 

Host

Ruby Jones is an investigative journalist and host of 7am.

Guest

Amy Fallon is a freelance journalist writing on social justice and human rights.

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