An Australian-led petition demanding the federal government intervene in the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States over the publication of hundreds of thousands of documents exposing US involvement in numerous atrocities has passed 100,000 signatures. And it’s growing larger every day.
The petition on change.org was started by Brisbane resident Philip Adams nine months ago, and had reached more than 30,000 signatures before Assange was arrested earlier this month, after his political asylum within the Ecuadorian embassy in London was cancelled.
Since then it’s almost quadrupled in size, and is gathering momentum.
“Julian Assange has been forcibly removed from political asylum and has been arrested,” writes Adams. “He is no longer in the Ecuadorian Embassy and instead is in British police custody.
“Julian Assange now faces the prospect of extradition to the USA for publishing facts delivered to him as a journalist and those facts revealed systemic government corruption and war crimes.
“These were the exact issues he required protection from and why he accepted Ecuadorian political asylum.”
Adams argues Assange is an Australian citizen who had been arbitrarily detained for more than eight years and “more recently had endured over one year of torture in the form of continuous solitary confinement, deprived of sunlight, contact with the outside world and proper healthcare”.
“The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner on Feb. 5, 2016 determined that Julian Assange’s arbitrary detention ‘should be brought to an end’.
“Julian Assange is an awarded and respected international journalist who has never incorrectly published any news.”
The petition specifically asks that the “Prime Minister and/or the Foreign Minister of the Australian Government intervene and ensure Julian Assange’s freedom of safe passage and return to his home Australia or any other location that Julian Assange requests to travel to”. “We further respectfully request that the Australian Government where influence can be made with friendly nations, that the Australian Government ensure that no extradition order is effected on Julian Assange from the USA that may otherwise impinge on his ongoing freedom of passage and existence.
You can view the petition here. And if you’re interested in what ‘influence’ the Australian Government has brought to bear on the Assange case so far – or rather what lack of influence – it’s worth reading this exchange with Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson and Department of Foreign Affairs officials during a Senate Estimates hearing in February this year.
In it, officials refuse to disclose details of what Assange said about his own health during an embassy visit for ‘privacy reasons’, they reveal the Australian Government does not accept a United Nations opinion that Assange has been “arbitrarily detained”, they claim the Australian Government never had any indication an arrest warrant had been created in the US, and they state that the official Government position was Assange could have walked out of the Ecuadorian embassy anytime he liked.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I have some questions for the consular section. I congratulate the consular section at DFAT for their recent intervention on behalf of Australian citizens arbitrarily detained overseas. Regarding another Australian citizen arbitrarily detained overseas, I understand that two consular officials visited Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy on 7 June 2018. Can you confirm that that’s correct? What can you share about that visit?
Mr TODD: I can confirm that two officers from the high commission in London did visit Mr Assange on that date.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: And what can you share about that visit?
Mr TODD: The visit was at the request of Mr Assange’s family to visit him. We undertook our standard consular visit. We spent some time with Mr Assange. He indicated some details of the nature of his current living circumstances and advised our officers about a range of matters concerning his health.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Can you confirm that his health is deteriorating, that the general living conditions are deteriorating as well and that he’s under pressure at the embassy?
Mr TODD: I’m not a medical practitioner and nor were the two people—
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Did he communicate that to you?
Mr TODD: I don’t think it’s appropriate, for privacy reasons, that I divulge the nature of private conversations between a consular client and the consular officers who visited him.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I’ve certainly had that indication from meeting his father myself. The Australian Consular Services Charter notes that, if an Australian is arrested, consular officials will visit or contact a person to check on their welfare and do what they can to make sure that the person is treated fairly under the law. Given this charter, how many times have consular officials visited Mr Assange since 1 January 2017?
Mr TODD: Since 1 June 2017—that would have been on two occasions.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: How many times has he been contacted by Australian officials?
Mr TODD: For that period of time I would have to check. We have a very detailed record of all the contact we’ve made. Until very recently Mr Assange had not responded to the approaches that we had made via the Ecuadorian embassy. The two occasions when we have met with him have been as a result of him or his family requesting that we make those visits.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I’ll put a number of detailed questions to you on notice about what consular services have done.
Senator PAYNE: My advice is that the last visit to Mr Assange by Australian consular officials was on 29 January this year to check on his welfare.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Thank you. I wasn’t aware of that. Minister, could you tell me what you or your government have done to try to secure Mr Assange’s release?
Senator PAYNE: We don’t necessarily agree with the premise inherent in your question. We do continue to offer him consular support, as I have just indicated. We are not in a position to interfere in his legal matters in the United Kingdom or elsewhere. But we will continue to support him as we are able to do.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: In December last year the UN working group put out a statement and a paper, which I have here and am happy to table, claiming that Mr Assange is arbitrarily detained. This is following up on a 2015 position that they’d already stated. It stated: ‘In addition, the recommendations of the WGAD Opinions are expected to be implemented by all States, including those which have not been a party in the case concerning Mr. Assange.’ Given that the UN working group is clearly calling on all states to cease violating international law in his case, if you don’t agree with the premise of my question, are you saying you don’t believe his release should be secured?
Senator PAYNE: I’m not aware of the report that you have referred to specifically. But I’m happy from my personal perspective to take that on notice and respond to you further. Mr Larsen may be able to assist.
Mr LARSEN: The Australian government doesn’t share the view of that UN committee. We don’t believe that Mr Assange is being arbitrarily detained.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: If I have time I’ll come back to that. Is the Australian government aware of criminal charges against Mr Assange in the United States?
Mr LARSEN: The Australian government is not aware of that, no.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Did the Australian government follow up with the US authorities following the mistaken publication of a document that suggested Mr Assange was facing criminal charges? Did you seek information on that?
Mr LARSEN: I don’t know the answer to that question. Is there a particular date that you’re—
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I’ll get that for you. You’re not aware of that report?
Mr LARSEN: Personally I’m not aware, no.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: You are not aware of any reports that he is facing criminal charges in the US?
Mr LARSEN: I have seen media references to the possibility of criminal charges, yes.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: They haven’t been followed up by you?
Mr LARSEN: I would need to check that.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I’ll get you those details. Is the Australian government aware of any extradition request from the US to the United Kingdom?
Mr LARSEN: The Australian government is not aware of any extradition request from the United States to the United Kingdom in relation to Mr Assange.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Have you sought any assurances that an extradition notice doesn’t exist?
Mr LARSEN: I don’t know that we’ve sought assurances in precisely those terms. I will check that. We have of course informed ourselves concerning the United States judicial system and asked questions where there have been references. But I don’t know the precise answer to those inquiries.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Briefly, what sorts of processes does the Australian government undertake and what sorts of safeguards are in place when an Australian citizen is facing extradition and could face the death penalty?
Mr TODD: In the case of Mr Assange and the United Kingdom, the extradition processes would be undertaken in accordance with UK law. He has a full entitlement to use every legal avenue available to him in the UK to defend his interests and pursue those matters.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: There’s a petition being circulated at the moment that’s got over 30,000 signatures asking for the Prime Minister to intervene and bring Mr Assange back to Australia. Are you able to comment on whether there have been any briefings that you have provided? I’m not asking for the advice. Have you provided any briefings at all to the Prime Minister or to the minister about bringing Mr Assange back to Australia?
Mr TODD: Our view is that Mr Assange is free to return to Australia at any time that he chooses to leave the Ecuadorian embassy.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Are you saying he should be free at any time he chooses to leave the Ecuadorian embassy?
Mr TODD: If he leaves the Ecuadorian embassy, as I’ve said previously before this committee, he would be subject to any outstanding judicial processes in the UK. We have assurances from senior government representatives in the UK that he’ll be given all due legal process. I understand that that relates to an outstanding bail matter. As Mr LARSEN said at the last hearing of this committee, he has a current Australian passport.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Are you aware of the petition that’s been circulating calling for his release?
Mr TODD: I have seen a copy of that petition.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Going back to the issue Mr LARSEN mentioned about seeking assurances that an extradition notice doesn’t exist in the UK, because I think this is the critical problem, you said ‘not quite in those terms’. Could you elaborate a bit on what kinds of conversations you have had with the UK government about any potential extradition of Mr Assange?
Mr LARSEN: I know that we have had extensive conversations with the United Kingdom government concerning Mr Assange. I will need to check precisely what discussions we have had about the possibility of a United States extradition request. I don’t have that answer with me.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Is it possible for me to seek a private briefing with you, on your indulgence, Minister, on this matter?
Senator PAYNE: We’ll facilitate a briefing, Senator Whish-Wilson.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Thank you.
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