Julian Assange’s supporters call on Australian government to provide update on talks with US

Campaign adviser says public should be told of any progress on securing Assange’s release if he is extradited from UK

Julian Assange’s supporters have called on the Australian government to reveal whether it is making progress in talks with the US to secure the release of the WikiLeaks co-founder as he fights his extradition from the UK.

The request comes after the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, said the case against the Australian citizen had “gone on long enough” but cited private talks with the Biden administration as a reason for not commenting further.

Assange 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.

Greg Barns SC, a legal adviser to the Australian Assange campaign, said he was “heartened” by Dreyfus’s comments but believed it was time for the Australian government to give the public a broad update on any progress.

Barns said the longer the government went without giving an update, the more Assange’s supporters would “feel as though they’re treading water, and that the government is treading water”.

“We’re not asking for chapter and verse, we’re not asking for cables, we’re not asking for emails or briefing notes or memos,” Barns said.

“We’re simply saying it would be very useful to the great many Assange supporters in Australia and to his family for there to be some update on the part of the Australian government about progress that’s being made.”

Barns said he did not doubt the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, was sincere in wanting the matter brought to a close, given that the Labor leader had been consistent in his stance on the Assange case “for a long period of time”.

But Barns implored the government to take heed of Assange’s declining physical and mental health. Assange’s wife, Stella Assange, has said he is in isolation in his jail cell after testing positive to Covid on Saturday.

“This is a prisoner in a maximum security prison with a weakened health system who’s now got Covid,” Barns said. “That should be alarming to any Australian government.”

Dreyfus addressed the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday and was asked whether the pursuit of the Assange was in the public interest.

“Mr Assange’s case has gone on long enough,” Dreyfus replied.

“The prime minister has said this. The foreign minister has said this. I’ve said this.

“I will say it again: it has gone on long enough. But we’re not going to conduct our representations to the government of the United States in public.”

Dreyfus added: “I’ll say no more about that.”

The US embassy in Canberra declined to respond to Dreyfus’s remarks on Wednesday, referring the matter to the US Department of Justice, which was also contacted for comment.

The White House has previously told reporters the Assange matter was an “ongoing criminal case” and the president, Joe Biden, was “committed to an independent Department of Justice”.

Press freedom advocates and human rights groups argue the prosecution of Assange under the US Espionage Act sets “a dangerous precedent”.

The whistleblower prosecuted 50 years ago for releasing the Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam war, Daniel Ellsberg, has said the extradition “would mean that journalists, anywhere in the world, could be extradited to the US for exposing information classified in the US”.

Assange’s father, John Shipton, and brother, Gabriel Shipton, raised concerns in August that there had been little progress made since the Australian election in May. They said Albanese should make the issue “non-negotiable” with the US.


Daniel Hurst Foreign affairs and defence correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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