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Australia’s Labor government rejects mounting demands for Assange’s release

Friday’s announcement by British Home Secretary Priti Patel that she has approved Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States has sparked outpouring of anger and opposition, including in Australia.

The decision will be subject to a final appeal within the UK legal system by Assange’s lawyers. But Patel’s announcement underscores the increasingly imminent danger that Assange will be handed over to the United States where he faces 18 charges that fall under theEspionage Actcarrying sentences of up to 175 years in prison, for bringing to light war crimes committed by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan and other violence committed by its allies.

Anthony Albanese and Julian Assange

Since the announcement, Assange has repeatedly appeared among the top “trending” topics on Twitter in Australia: several thousand posts oppose his persecution. Social media posts by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and other senior Labor politicians unrelated to the Assange case have been inundated with comments demanding that the government act immediately to release Assange, a Australian citizen.

Labor responded with undisguised hostility. In response to a reporter’s question about the demands on Monday, Albanese said, “There are people who think that if you capitalize things on Twitter and put an exclamation mark, it makes them somehow more important. This is not the case”. Labour, he said, “runs a government that works diplomatically and appropriately with our partners”, meaning Britain and the United States.

The two times Albanese answered questions about Assange, he said as little as possible. The aim is to urge the government to do nothing at all, while leaving the field open to its apologists to claim that the Labor Party may be making behind-the-scenes representations to the British and American governments.

But Labour’s true position has been made clear by Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Secretary Richard Marles and Foreign Secretary Penny Wong, both of whom have the closest ties to the US state and play a role central to Australia’s increased integration into the US-China confrontation.

In a joint statement with Attorney General Mark Dreyfus shortly after Patel’s announcement, Wong said Australia “was not a party to Mr Assange’s case and the Australian government could not intervene in the legal affairs of another country”.

This statement presents the attempted extradition of Assange as a bona fide “legal matter”, when in fact it is nothing more than an extraordinary rendition. Assange is being prosecuted for having published, as a journalist, information that is true and in the public interest. This is clearly a frontal attack on freedom of the press and the most fundamental democratic rights.

Furthermore, the US prosecution of Assange has resulted in countless attacks on his legal and democratic rights. In addition to a massive espionage operation carried out against the founder of WikiLeaks by the United States, when he was a political refugee in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Yahoo! News reported last September that the Trump administration had discussed his kidnapping and assassination in 2017.

As for the treatment reserved for Assange by Great Britain, it has been described as state torture by the rapporteur who has just finished his term at the United Nations, Nils Melzer. The Australian citizen has been held in Belmarsh high security prison for more than three years, most of that time without charge.

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