by Marty Silk
Australian politicians are pressing the UK and Australian governments to directly intervene to stop Wikileaks founder Julian Assange being extradited to the United States.
The 48-year-old has been charged in the US with 17 counts of spying and one of conspiring to commit computer intrusion for allegedly trying to help former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning conceal her digital identity as she accessed classified Pentagon files regarding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
WikiLeaks helped publish thousands of those files, some of which have revealed US war crimes committed in both countries, and diplomatic cables. Assange’s case is widely viewed as a litmus test for the protection of journalists’ sources.
Wikileaks editor Kristin Hrafnsson says Assange’s publishing activities were in the public interest and, despite US claims, have not resulted in any persons coming to harm.
He believes the case is purely political and gave the example of then CIA director Mike Pompeo describing Wikileaks as a “hostile non-state intelligence organisation” in 2016.
“This is a very political case,” he said.
“Therefore, of course, we need to rely on politicians to turn this around.”
Australian Liberal National Party MP George Christensen, who’s set to visit Assange in Belmarsh prison with Australian independent MP Andrew Wilkie on Monday, urged British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to stop the trial.
Mr Christensen said Mr Johnson should follow his professed support for protecting whistle-blowers and journalists with clear action.
“I hope there’s a change in direction and I hope that Boris Johnson actually withdraws this case before the courts,” he said.
Mr Wilkie said if the case was decided purely on its legal merits the Wikileaks founder would not be extradited.
He thinks it “beggars belief” that the Australian government has been so silent about one of its own citizens.
“It beggars belief that the country accused of war crimes (the US) is the country that wants to get its hand on Julian Assange. Frankly, the enemy,” Mr Wilkie said.
“It is regrettable that the Australian government and the British government so far have been happy to go along for the ride.”
Mr Christensen said the case was a crucial test of free speech and a free press rather than a personality test on Assange.
“There’s a lot of Australians on the left and on the right that think Julian Assange is a rat-bag,” he said.
“I’m a rat-bag, I love rat-bags, that’s great, but you know what: he’s our rat-bag, so he should be brought home.”