Australian Labor Party Urges US to Drop Charges Against Assange

Demonstrators protest outside the Westminster Magistrates' Court in London on October 21, 2019. (Photo: Isabel Infantes/AFP via Getty Images)

Australian Labor Party Urges US to Drop Charges Against Assange

The opposition argues the case must "be brought to an end" as the prime minister says the WikiLeaks founder will be "free to return home" if extradition battle won.

The Australian Labor Party, currently the opposition in the country's parliament, is calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government to urge the United States to drop all charges against Julian Assange following a British judge's denial on Monday of the Trump administration's extradition request targeting the WikiLeaks founder.

"Labor welcomes the decision to give priority to the health and welfare of Julian Assange. Now that a British court has found that it would be unjust to extradite Mr. Assange to the U.S. Labor believes that this has dragged on for long enough," said Mark Dreyfus, Australia's shadow attorney general, in a statement Tuesday.

"While the U.S. has the right to appeal the court's decision, we call on the Morrison government to do what it can to draw a line under this matter and encourage the U.S. government to bring this matter to a close," he continued, noting that American whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who leaked information to Assange, had her sentence commuted in 2017 by then-President Barack Obama.

Dreyfus' statement--which was welcomed by Assange's partner Stella Moris--added that "Labor expects the Australian government to provide appropriate consular support to Mr. Assange, as is his right as an Australian. Given his ill health it is now time for this long drawn out case against Julian Assange to be brought to an end."

Some Australian politicians have gone even further, pushing Morrison to pressure outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump to pardon Assange. Human rights and free press defenders worldwide, from whistleblower Edward Snowden to United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer, have also called for a pardon.

The Guardianreports that "coalition backbencher George Christensen and the South Australian independent senator Rex Patrick were among Assange supporters who saw a presidential pardon from Donald Trump as the best way to bring an end to the saga."

Judge Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates' Court on Monday rejected the attempt to extradite Assange to the United States, where he faces one computer hacking charge and 17 charges under the Espionage Act for publishing leaked U.S. military records and diplomatic cables during the Obama administration.

However, Baraitser's decision was met with mix reactions because it was not based on the threat that such an extradition would pose to press freedoms, but rather because the judge determined that if Assange was sent to a U.S. supermax prison, his "mental health would deteriorate causing him to commit suicide."

Assange has been imprisoned at Her Majesty's Prison Belmarsh in London since he was forcibly dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy by British authorities in April 2019. Melzer as well as dozens of medical doctors have denounced the conditions endured by Assange at the notorious U.K. prison as "torture."

Morrison addressed Assange's case in a pair of recent radio interviews, telling 3AW in Melborne that if the 49-year-old's legal challenges are resolved in his favor, "then he's like any other Australian. He'd be free to return home if he wished."

The U.S. plans to appeal the U.K. judge's denial. Morrison told the Sydney radio station 2GB that "the justice system is making its way and we're not a party to that."

"And like any Australian, they're offered consular support and should, you know, the appeal fail, obviously he would be able to return to Australia like any other Australian," the prime minister added. "So, yes, it's just a straightforward process of the legal system in the U.K. working its way through."

As Common Dreams reported Monday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called Baraitser's denial of the U.S. extradition request "a triumph of justice" and said that Mexico would offer Assange political asylum on the condition that the WikiLeaks founder not "interfere in the political affairs of any country."

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