Assange ‘free to return to Australia’ when legal challenges end

Julian Assange is “free to return home” to Australia if a US extradition bid fails in the British courts, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday, as Australian legislators urged Washington to drop its espionage case against the WikiLeaks founder.

Morrison’s comments came a day after a British judge blocked the extradition request by the United States, where Assange is wanted on criminal charges including breaking espionage laws, saying his mental health problems meant he would be at risk of suicide.

Julian Assange is “free to return home” to Australia if a US extradition bid fails in the British courts, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday, as Australian legislators urged Washington to drop its espionage case against the WikiLeaks founder.

Morrison’s comments came a day after a British judge blocked the extradition request by the United States, where Assange is wanted on criminal charges including breaking espionage laws, saying his mental health problems meant he would be at risk of suicide.

Assange is accused by the US of 18 offences during the administration of former President Barack Obama relating to the release by WikiLeaks of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables, which the US says put lives at risk.

In a mixed ruling for Assange and his supporters, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser on Monday rejected defence arguments that the 49-year-old Australian faces a politically-motivated prosecution in the US that rides roughshod over free-speech protections.

But she said Assange’s precarious mental health would likely deteriorate further under the conditions of “near-total isolation” he would face if jailed in the US.

“I find that the mental condition of Mr Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America,” the judge said.

Following the decision, Andrew Wilkie and George Christensen, co-chairs of the Bring Julian Assange Home Parliamentary Group, which comprises more than 20 Australian legislators, called on the Australian government to press the US to end its pursuit of Assange.

“This is a shameful chapter of history which shows London and Canberra care more about kowtowing to Washington than they do about protecting an Australian citizen, who has never been found guilty of any offence,” Wilkie said in a statement.

With a US appeal looming, Morrison “must pick up the phone and call US President Donald Trump and US President-elect Joe Biden to ask them to drop the extradition bid”, Wilkie said. The Australian leader must also demand British authorities release Assange from a maximum-security London prison, where he has been held for more than 18 months, Wilkie added.

Christensen, a backbencher in the governing conservative Liberal-National coalition, also urged Trump to pardon Assange and “ensure the Deep State and a potential Biden Administration cannot pursue further action against him”.

“Furthermore the Australian Government should ensure that when he is returned to Australia, there is no avenue for an extradition from his home country to the United States.”

The opposition Labor Party, meanwhile, welcomed the British judge’s decision, calling on the “Morrison government to do what it can to draw a line under this matter and encourage the US government to bring this matter to a close”.

In a statement on behalf of the opposition, legislator Mark Dreyfus noted Chelsea Manning, the former US soldier who leaked the documents to Assange, had her sentence commuted, and added: “Given his ill health, it is now time for this long drawn out case against Julian Assange to be brought to an end”.

Australia’s Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance, the journalists’ union of which Assange is a member, also said the Australian government must use its “good relationship with the US” to expedite Assange’s safe passage to Australia.

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