Article included in the Independent Australian 17 December 2019
To: Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Dear Prime Minister,
In accordance with its duty to every citizen, the Australian Government must act to defend the beleaguered rights of Julian Assange.
Political reaction has caused him to be sought by the U.S., where he faces an effective death sentence of 175 years in prison for his role in publishing its internal documents. These included U.S. State Department communications and army logs of the wars it led in Afghanistan and Iraq — the latter of which was declared illegal by the UN Secretary-General.
To rationalise this on account of Wikileaks’ impacts is to condone punishment for releasing facts disseminated by major outlets. This is incompatible with press freedom, which in times of peace and conflict alike, hinges on the assurance that it will not be traded off.
Free expression is integral to transparency, without which democracy is necessarily a treacherous illusion. Genuine security thus stands or falls with the availed freedom to render power transparent.
Conversely, the war of aggression and oppressive surveillance amount to fake security, like the silencing of those who expose them, which, as a rule, is on false pretexts.
In 2010, a U.S. official was told in a State Department briefing that the impact of the leaks “was embarrassing but not damaging”, according to Reuters.
Courthouse News reported in 2013 that a former brigadier general heading the Information Review Task Force investigating the same leaks testified that they “did not lead to the deaths of any military sources”.
Assange’s character has been much maligned, but is not subject to legislation and is accordingly no justification for extradition. Yet his rendition to the U.S. would be a precedent to weigh on all of good character — especially those who align with him in vital publishing.
Britain attempted to extradite him to Sweden over allegations of sexual violence, though Women Against Rape said,
“We do not believe that is why he is being pursued.”
In November 2019, after nine years of Assange being cast as a suspected rapist, the preliminary investigation was dropped for the third time. The last two of them spurred the impropriety of a press conference furthering a prosecutor’s contentions, at additional expense to his reputation and without provision for his defence counsel to respond.
Assange was never charged, and despite arguing in court that he would likely be charged in Sweden, poverty of evidence moved the Swedish prosecutor to withdraw their European arrest warrant in 2013, before receiving the exculpatory testimony that Assange waited until 2017 for an opportunity to provide. The investigation only continued in the meantime due to pointed intervention of the British Crown Prosecution Service: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!”
The UK persisted in refusing to let him leave the Ecuadorian Embassy without facing arrest and a UN panel ruled that such effective detainment was arbitrary.
In cooperation with Britain, a new president in Ecuador complied with a written request from the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs to deliver Assange ‘to the proper authorities’.
Even the Ombudsman of Ecuador confirmed this expulsion as a breach of asylum laws, among others, and listed the violated articles.
Britain arrested and convicted Assange for breaching bail, citing failure to appear at a police station when requested. That request was issued with disrespect for the universal right to seek asylum, more than a week after the Embassy received him.
Assange was given a maximal sentence and endured the harshest prison conditions, simply for having sought and received asylum from another UN member state. Bail violation and absconding only apply if there is a breach of conditions without “reasonable cause”. Such causes naturally include asylum, which takes legal priority over extradition, including connected bail matters and for clearly justified reasons. Nevertheless, the judge was more interested in pronouncing him a “narcissist”.
The U.S. indictments against him only concern 2010 material from WikiLeaks and reveal no new information. Like the bail issue and Swedish investigation, such matters were evaluated by theUN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for 16 months prior to its ruling.
Its independent findings remain applicable, and cannot be rivalled as authoritative, expert opinion on how Britain is constrained to act by its own ratification of covenants. Such binding legal protection of human rights would be absurd if optional.
In May this year, Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, presented Britain, Ecuador, Sweden and the U.S. with evidence of their extensive violations of legal protocol and duty concerning Assange. He also detailed the consequences of this, including emaciation, cognitive abnormalities and severe psychological suffering, as well as mortal risk if the strain placed on him was not immediately reduced.
The opposite occurred and his condition has strikingly deteriorated.
More than 80 doctors have now petitioned the UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, as well as the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland QC, to end this abuse and transfer him to a suitable hospital, in accordance with Professor Melzer’s explicit and urgent report to Patel’s predecessor.
To date, the UK Government has failed to respond in any way to the UN Rapporteur on Torture, other than by issuing a single reply and denying impropriety in two paragraphs, four months later.
This conduct is a brazen abrogation of absolute investigative and remedial obligations, under international and human rights law signed by Britain.
The UK Government is still resisting the hospital transfer request, which is a scandal that Australia will be increasingly culpable in, to the extent that it remains a passive witness.
No law or protocol prevents an Australian statesman from asking a British counterpart to relocate its citizen to a required university teaching hospital. Nor would it be possible in this case to refuse that request in a credible or politic way.
Julian Assange should not spend another day as a publisher held on remand, withering under effective solitary confinement in a poorly funded maximum-security prison.
Extradition to the U.S. would not culminate in a fair trial or bring an end to the torture, but likely make it worse and permanent, in Melzer’s researched, documented and mandated estimation, as a professor of international law at the University of Glasgow.
Relevant proceedings should be ended immediately by the UK Crown Prosecutor, who has the discretionary power to do this and like any person acting on the government’s behalf, must abide by ratified international law in that role. The Home Office should also commit in public to refuse any potential extradition directive from the judiciary.
All branches and parts of the implicated governments are obliged to uphold the spirit, as well as legally bound to the letter pertaining to international law.
This implies that Australia must do all in its power to ensure that Britain rectifies, in each way described, its treatment of an Australian citizen who happens to be the world’s most famous publisher.
It also means that extraterritorial prosecution must be vigorously opposed, and with particular respect to Assange, by way of openly and preemptively refusing his extradition from Australia to the U.S. This should occur in tandem with securing him the option, with an itinerary of his choosing, to be availed of diplomatic escort to a friendly Australian doorstep.
There is no latitude for a free and dignified nation to deviate from these positions, let alone the country of his birth.
In regards to U.S. relations, no alliance can remain special without healthy and respected boundaries. Foremost among these are sovereignty and human rights, neither of which are negotiable.
Parliamentary groups in support of Assange in Germany, Italy and the European Union as well as here in Australia are keenly mindful of that, and naturally gaining momentum.
London’s embarrassingly political prisoner has endured over 3,000 days of continuous detainment, and may not make it through the coming ones.
Intervention can be appropriate, and never more than now.
Bring Julian Assange home, safely and speedily.
Pentagon Papers Whistleblower
Julian Burnside AO QC
Human Rights Lawyer
Author and Australian Financial Review Columnist
Former Technical Director, NSA
Nobel Peace Laureate
Author and Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist
Transnational Defence Counsel
Investigative Journalist and Walkley Award Winner, Pacific Media Centre
Former CIA Analyst, prepared daily brief for President Reagan’s top security advisers
Journalist and Former Chair, Sydney Peace Foundation
Margaret Ratner Kunstler
Civil Rights Attorney, Author and Editor
Author and Journalist
CIA Torture Whistleblower
Journalist and Former Professor of Journalism, Monash University
Dr Thomas Harré
Human Rights Lawyer
ABC Investigations Reporter
Professor of Systematic Theology
Co-founder of CODEPINK
Lawyer, Researcher and Human Rights Activist
Emeritus Professor Brian Martin
Social Scientist, Wollongong University
Jeffrey Kaye PhD
Author of Cover-Up at Guantanamo
Retired History Professor
Former Guantanamo Prisoner
Emeritus Professor Frank Stilwell
Political Economy USyd. Vice President, Evatt Foundation
Law Professor and Progress For All Chair
MP German Bundestag and Member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Author of The CIA as Organized Crime
Dr Piers Robinson
Co-director of the Organisation for Propaganda Studies
Dr Tim Anderson
Center for Counter Hegemonic Studies
Investigative Journalist and TOR Pioneer
Journalist, Sony Award Winner for Outstanding Contribution to International Media
Co-Founder Scoop Independent News
Peter Forrest FAHA
Artist, Sculptor of ‘Anything to Say?’
Dr Luke Fischer
Philosopher, Author and Overland Award-Winning Poet USyd
Writer and Journalist
Dr Scott Burchill
Senior Lecturer in International Relations Deakin University
NGO Executive Director & U.S. Citizen Abroad
Journalist, Public Access Television San Francisco/Sacramento
Paediatrician and Activist, Popular Resistance
Associate ProfessorLinguistics University of Sydney
Attorney and Activist, Popular Resistance
Dr Lissa Johnson
Psychologist and New Matilda Columnist
Independent Researcher, Advocate, Journalist
Committee to Defend Julian Assange, UK
Consortium News Live Co-host
Dr Nick Riemer
Senior Lecturer English and Linguistics USyd
US Public Relations
Dr David Coady
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy UTAS
Journalist, Co-host, Action 4 Assange
Dr Tony Lynch
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy UNE
Screenwriter and Artist
Action-taker providing instruments for traumatised kids in war zones
Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Helsinki
Activist, Unity4J Spokesperson, Free Assange Vigil Host
Dr Evan Jones
Political Economy USyd
Activist/Artist with People for Assange
Dr Binoy Kampmark
Lecturer School of Global, Urban and Social Studies RMIT University
Former Australian diplomat
Award-winning journalist and filmmaker
Executive Editor Independent Australia
Managing Editor Independent Australia