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Australian Parliament Calls for U.S. to Drop Case Against WikiLeaks’ Assange Ahead of U.K. Court Hearing

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Imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is set to find out next week whether he has exhausted opportunities to avoid extradition to the United States, where he faces life in prison for publishing classified documents exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. A two-day hearing before the British High Court of Justice is scheduled to take place in London on Tuesday and Wednesday. He has been held in London’s infamous Belmarsh Prison since 2019 awaiting his possible extradition. Jennifer Robinson, an Australian human rights attorney and legal adviser to Assange and WikiLeaks, discusses public and governmental support for Assange in Australia, where an “unprecedented” parliamentary resolution was passed Wednesday calling for Assange’s release. Robinson calls the charges against Assange a “dangerous precedent for free speech” and says, “It’s time that the United States respects our special relationship and listens to the calls of the Australian people and our Parliament and our government and drops this case.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, this is, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is set to find out next week whether he’s exhausted all potential challenges through the British courts to being extradited to the United States. The two-day hearing before the British High Court of Justice is scheduled to take place in London on Tuesday and Wednesday. Assange is seeking to appeal the June 2022 decision by then-British Home Secretary Priti Patel to approve a request by Washington for him to be extradited to the U.S., where he faces up to 175 years in prison for publishing classified documents exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange has been held in London’s infamous Belmarsh Prison since 2019 awaiting his possible extradition. Prior to that, he spent seven years cramped inside Ecuador’s Embassy in London. Ecuador had granted him political asylum.

On Wednesday, Australia’s Parliament overwhelmingly approved a motion calling for the release of Assange, an Australian citizen. Australian MP Andrew Wilkie introduced the resolution.

ANDREW WILKIE: This will be the time for all of us to take a stand, to stand up and to take a stand, and to stand with Julian Assange, stand for the principles of justice, stand for the principles of media freedom and the rights of journalists to do their job. … This has gone on too long, that it must be brought to an end. And I’m confident if this Parliament can support this motion this afternoon, Deputy Speaker, it will send a very powerful political signal to the British government and to the U.S. government.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to London, where we’re joined by Jennifer Robinson, human rights attorney who’s been advising Julian Assange and WikiLeaks since 2010. She’s just gotten to London. She will be there in court next week.

Jennifer Robinson, you are Australian. Can you talk about the significance of what led to — well, the culmination — this resolution passed, from the right to the left, in the Australian Parliament?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: This is an unprecedented demonstration of political support for our campaign to bring Julian Assange home to Australia. As a fellow Australian citizen, I’ve never seen anything like this in the Australian Parliament. The Australian Parliament, and, indeed, supported by the prime minister and the government, calling on the U.S. and the U.K. for Julian to be able to return home safely to Australia is a very strong signal to the United States that it is a priority for the Australian government, for the Australian people and our Parliament that Julian Assange be freed.

This is the culmination of over a decade of campaigning in Australia. I have traveled down to Australia and to Canberra to meet with members of Parliament over many years. Campaign groups, community groups have been putting pressure on their local MPs and on the Parliament to do this. And I think it’s a demonstration of the power of community organizing and the important principle that this case raises for the Australian people and for the Australian government.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about how Julian Assange is seen in Australia? I mean, Australia is a close U.S. ally. What kind of conversations has the prime minister, Albanese, had with President Biden, who’s called — at least in the past, called Julian Assange a “high-tech terrorist”?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: The strong sentiment in Australia, that this is an Australian citizen, he’s an award-winning journalist and publisher — he’s won journalism awards around the world. He won the Sydney Peace Prize for the publications for which the U.S. wants to prosecute him, So there’s a huge amount of public support for Julian at home, which is reflected in this parliamentary resolution.

The Australian prime minister took this position first as leader of the opposition, the leader of the Labor Party, saying, “Enough is enough. This case has gone on too long. It’s time to bring it to an end.” And that is a position he has maintained as our prime minister, and we are grateful to him for the principled leadership he’s showing on this issue, which is the first time an Australian prime minister has taken such a strong stand.

This goes to show the importance of the issue for Australia, and the prime minister has confirmed publicly that he has raised this issue on numerous occasions with President Biden. And we are working with the Australian government and continue to work with the Australian government to try to seek a resolution in the case. It’s time that the United States respects our special relationship and listens to the calls of the Australian people and our Parliament and our government and drops this case. It’s dangerous for U.S. press freedom. It’s dangerous for all journalists in the United States. And this is now an issue of a matter of the relationship with Australia.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what indications do you have that the Biden administration will respond or possibly drop the extradition request? And what indications do you have what the court is going to rule next week, the High Court in Britain?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: We certainly hope that the Biden administration will listen to the Australian government and our repeated calls for this case to be dropped. We want to see this matter dropped. We want to see Julian be able to go home safely to Australia.

But next week we’re in the sharp end of the case. We are looking down the barrel of our final — potentially Julian’s final appeal in the U.K. If we are refused permission to appeal on all grounds next week, Julian’s extradition will be ordered. The only avenue of appeal left available to us — that will be the end of his appeals in the U.K.; we cannot appeal to the court of appeal, the Supreme Court — will be the European Court of Human Rights. And we are prepared to make a provisional measures application, which we hope will prevent his extradition. But if we’re unsuccessful, he’ll be on a plane to the United States and in prison in the United States. And that’s how serious this matter is. That’s how close we are to the very end of this case.

AMY GOODMAN: What message do you think is being sent? It’s not just about Julian Assange if found guilty in the United States — not clear what kind of trial he would have here in the United States — but that he faces 175 years in prison. What message is this to The New York Times, to El País, to Der Spiegel, to The Guardian, to newspapers all over the world who published the WikiLeaks findings?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: As we’ve been saying for years, this case sets a dangerous precedent for all journalists. It is, of course, what we call The New York Times problem, that Julian Assange was engaged in journalistic activity, the same kind of activity that journalists engage in every day, indeed the same activity that all those newspapers engaged in, in publishing this material. This precedent, if Julian is prosecuted, will be setting a precedent that any journalist anywhere in the world, not just in the United States, but anywhere in the world, could be prosecuted and extradited to the United States to face prosecution for publishing truthful U.S. information. This is the first time in history the U.S. is pursuing a publisher under the Espionage Act. It crosses all legal thresholds in terms of the First Amendment and will set a dangerous precedent not just for Julian and WikiLeaks, but for the entire media. That’s why this is so concerning. And these arguments will feature in our appeal this week.

We’ll also be making the point that if extradited to the U.S., this is a grave threat to free speech. We raised concerns about whether Julian has the ability to be able to get a fair trial in the United States, given where the trial will take place and the very public statements that have been made by the president of the United States, by the CIA director and other high-profile individuals, affecting his right to be presumed innocent. So there’s a number of serious concerns, including spying on us as lawyers, unlawful spying on Julian, the seizure of his legally privileged material. This case is rife with abuse. So, leaving aside the very principled free speech concerns that have been raised by The New York Times and The Washington Post that this is criminalizing public interest journalism, there’s also incredible due process concerns with this case and, I think, should be a cause for concern for anyone who cares about civil liberties.

AMY GOODMAN: And on a very different issue, but the top story today — you are a global human rights attorney — your response, though we can’t confirm it independently, Russian state media reporting that the imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died in an Arctic Circle Russian prison at the age of 47?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: This news is utterly devastating, not just for Navalny’s family, but for the Russian people. He has been an incredibly brave and courageous advocate for democracy, not just as opposition leader, but, of course, let’s not forget, his investigative journalism which revealed and exposed the corruption of Russia’s ruling elite. It’s a very sad day for his family and a very sad day for democracy in Russia.

AMY GOODMAN: Jennifer Robinson, human rights attorney, has been advising Julian Assange and WikiLeaks since 2010, speaking to us from London, where she’ll attend the court hearing next week. And Democracy Now! will be covering that extensively.

When we come back, we look at the case of Hind Rajab, 6-year-old Palestinian girl in Gaza, called for help after her family was shot and killed by Israeli forces. Two weeks later, their bodies were found alongside the two rescue workers from Palestine Red Crescent who tried to save her. We’ll speak with Palestine Red Crescent. Back in 20 seconds.

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