Australian PM Anthony Albanese urges US government to end pursuit of Julian Assange

Prime minister says he raised Wikileaks co-founder’s case with US representatives recently and will continue to push for it to be ‘brought to a close’

The Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, says he has personally urged the US government to end its pursuit of Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange.

In his most in-depth comments about the diplomatically sensitive issue in months, Albanese said he had raised the Assange case “recently in meetings” with US representatives and he vowed to continue to press for it to be brought to a close.

Assange, an Australian citizen, remains in Belmarsh prison in London as he fights a US attempt to extradite him to face charges in connection with the publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars as well as diplomatic cables.

Albanese was responding to a parliamentary question from the independent MP Monique Ryan, who said public-interest journalism was “essential to democracy” and declared that Assange’s freedom “will only come from political intervention”.

Ryan asked: “Will the government intervene to bring Mr Assange home?”

Albanese gestures as he speaks in parliament on Wednesday
‘It is time that this matter be brought to a close’: Albanese in parliament on Wednesday. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

The prime minister acknowledged the case was “an issue of great interest to many Australians and of interest to people across this chamber”.

“The government will continue to act in a diplomatic way, but can I assure the member … that I have raised this personally with representatives of the United States government,” the Labor leader told parliament on Wednesday.

“My position is clear and has been made clear to the US administration – that it is time that this matter be brought to a close.”

He did not state explicitly whether he had raised it with the US president, Joe Biden, or with other US representatives such as the ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy, with whom he also met recently.

Albanese’s most recent meeting with Biden was in Bali, Indonesia, two weeks ago.

Albanese contrasted Assange’s legal situation with that of the former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who was released in 2017 when Barack Obama commuted her 35-year military prison sentence for leaking the information.

Albanese said he did not have sympathy for Assange’s actions “on a whole range of matters”, but he asked: “What is the point of this continuing this legal action which could be caught up now for many years into the future?”

The UK’s minister for the Indo-Pacific, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, and its high commissioner to Australia, Vicki Treadell, were in the audience in the House of Representatives during Albanese’s comments.

When he was the leader of the opposition, Albanese spoke out against the ongoing pursuit of Assange, declaring “enough is enough”.

But since being sworn in as prime minister, Albanese has indicated he would pursue quiet diplomacy, saying: “My position is that not all foreign affairs is best done with the loudhailer.”

The White House has previously said Assange was facing an “ongoing criminal case” and Biden was “committed to an independent Department of Justice”.

Contributor

Daniel Hurst Foreign affairs and defence correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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