A giant billboard in Melbourne

A giant billboard in Melbourne on September 5, 2023 calls for the release of Australian WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

(Photo: William Wes /AFP via Getty Images)

Days Before Extradition Hearing, Australian Parliament Tells US to Drop Assange Case

The vote "gives the government a real mandate to advocate very, very strongly for a political solution to bring Julian Assange home," said the journalist's brother.

As WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange awaits a two-day hearing before the United Kingdom's High Court next week on his possible extradition to the United States, lawmakers in his home country of Australia voted Wednesday in favor of pushing the U.S. and U.K. to allow Assange to return home instead.

"Enough is enough," said Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese regarding the U.S. case against Assange, who published thousands of classified diplomatic and military documents in 2010 that included evidence of U.S. war crimes. "This thing cannot just go on and on and on indefinitely."

The prime minister joined 85 other lawmakers in voting for a motion proposed by Andrew Wilkie, an Independent member of the country's House of Representatives, to demand that the U.S. and U.K. drop the extradition effort and bring the case against Assange "to a close so that Mr. Assange can return home to his family in Australia."

Forty-two lawmakers opposed the measure.

Assange has been held at London's high-security Belmarsh Prison for the past five years, having been arrested for skipping bail in a separate legal matter.

In the U.S., he faces 17 espionage charges over WikiLeaks' publication of the classified documents.

In 2021, a U.K. judge ruled that the U.S. could not extradite Assange on the charges, saying prison conditions in the U.S. would endanger Assange's life. The journalist's physical and mental health has been in decline since his imprisonment, and he has suffered a mini-stroke, severe depression, and suicidal ideation, according to his attorneys.

The Biden administration appealed the decision, and the following year a court ruled that the extradition could proceed.

The High Court is set to hear Assange's case on February 20-21 to determine whether he should be granted a full appeal to challenge his extradition, and his family and other supporters fear that if he loses the appeal, the U.K. could send him to the U.S. before he has a chance to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Assange's wife, Stella Assange, said at a news conference on Thursday that the journalist could be on a plane to the U.S. "within days" if he loses the case.

"If he is extradited, he will die," she said.

On Wednesday, Amnesty International reiterated its call for the charges against Assange to be dropped, citing both "the risk of serious human rights violations" against him if he is held in the U.S. prison system and "a profound 'chilling effect' on global media freedom."

"The risk to publishers and investigative journalists around the world hangs in the balance. Should Julian Assange be sent to the U.S. and prosecuted there, global media freedoms will be on trial, too," said Julia Hall, Amnesty International's expert on counter-terrorism and criminal justice in Europe. "The public's right to information about what their governments are doing in their name will be profoundly undermined. The U.S. must drop the charges under the Espionage Act against Assange and bring an end to his arbitrary detention in the U.K."

Albanese said it is generally "not up to Australia to interfere in the legal processes of other countries, but it is appropriate for us to put our very strong view that those countries need to take into account the need for this to be concluded."

Speaking before Parliament ahead of the vote, Wilkie urged his colleagues to "stand for media freedom and the rights of journalists to do their jobs."

"Regardless of what you might think of Julian Assange," he said, "this has gone on too long... It must be brought to an end. And I'm confident that this Parliament can support this motion... It will send a very powerful political signal to the British government and the U.S. government."

Gabriel Shipton, Assange's brother, applauded Parliament for their show of support "at a crucial time" and said the vote "gives the government a real mandate to advocate very, very strongly for a political solution to bring Julian Assange home."

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