After Julian Assange was freed by a court in the remote US Pacific territory of Saipan on Wednesday, ending a 14-year legal battle, the WikiLeaks founder’s lawyer first thanked Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for making the outcome possible.

Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s Australian lawyer, said diplomacy and intense pressure from the highest US authorities played a big role in Assange’s release after five years in a high security prison in the UK and seven years sheltered in the embassy. Ecuadorian in London.

“At every opportunity, and whenever Australian officials made contact with the US, they knew they were acting with the full authority of the prime minister of Australia,” Robinson told reporters outside the court in Saipan.

A supporter of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange celebrates outside the US Consulate in Sydney, Australia June 26, 2024. AAP/Dean Lewins via REUTERS

Albanese said Assange’s release was a victory for the country, which used its security ties with Washington and London to strengthen its case in resolving the plight of an Australian citizen. “This work was complex and thoughtful. This is how you defend Australians around the world,” Albanese, leader of a centre-left Labor government, told parliament on Wednesday.

Assange, who was scheduled to arrive in Australia on Wednesday night, was facing a maximum prison sentence of 175 years after being charged with 17 counts of violating the US Espionage Act and one related charge of hacking. Under a deal revealed Tuesday, he pleaded guilty to a single count of espionage and was released.

The deal gained momentum as the US faced growing challenges in the UK over the legality of Assange’s extradition, while Australian lawmakers and diplomats increased pressure in Washington and London.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson speaks to the media alongside attorney Barry Pollack outside the U.S. District Court following a hearing, in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, U.S., June 26, 2024. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji


A decade ago, under a conservative government, there was little political will in Canberra to support Assange’s case. But things changed in 2023 when dozens of lawmakers from across the political spectrum joined the campaign to bring him home, his father John Shipton told Reuters.

This shift culminated in the passing of a parliamentary motion in February this year calling for Assange’s release.

Shipton told Reuters the Australian government was “nothing short of magnificent” and praised former prime minister Kevin Rudd and former defense minister Stephen Smith, Australia’s top envoys to the US and UK.

Australian Conservative lawmaker Barnaby Joyce, a former deputy prime minister, was among a group of cross-party politicians who traveled to Washington in September to push for a resolution.

Joyce said on Wednesday the trip presented the case on Capitol Hill that Australian politicians wanted to “resolve this issue” because it was a distraction from Australia’s security alliance with the United States.

Lawyer Greg Barns, a longtime adviser to Assange’s Australian campaign, said American politicians had come to realize from the trip that “this was not a partisan issue.”

A government official who declined to be named said the first major breakthrough for Assange came in January 2021, when then-shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus issued a statement calling for the case against Assange to be dropped after a British court ruled it unfair to extradite him to the United States.

“This was the first indication that a major political party in Australia was supporting the cause of Assange’s freedom,” the official said.

He arrives!

When the Labor Party took power in May 2022, Assange finally had the state’s diplomatic support. Later that year, Albanese called for his release on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies, the first time a Prime Minister had mentioned Assange in parliament since 2012.

“Enough, it’s time to resolve this issue,” he said.

“My position is clear and has been made clear to the US government that it is time to put this issue to rest. This is an Australian citizen.”

Behind the scenes, Albanese and senior cabinet colleagues including Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Attorney General Dreyfus used visits to the US to lobby their counterparts, according to a government official.

The appointment of Smith and Rudd to top diplomatic posts in London and Washington in late 2022 added two more lobbyists sympathetic to Assange’s cause.

Smith visited Assange in Belmarsh prison in April 2023, the first visit by a senior Australian diplomat to the UK since he was arrested four years earlier.

Deeper ties between Australia and the US through the AUKUS security pact have helped boost diplomatic efforts, said Mark Kenny, a professor at the Australian National University.

“It seems quite strange if we are getting closer and closer to the US and yet we don’t have a special relationship with the US that allows us to advocate and obtain concessions for an Australian citizen,” Kenny said.

Final Details

Until last July, US authorities appeared determined to prosecute Assange. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that month that Australia needed to understand US concerns about the matter.

However, a month later, US Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy said a deal was possible.

After a multi-party delegation of Australian politicians traveled to Washington in September to speak with Republican and Democratic lawmakers about the Assange case, the Biden administration appeared to be softening its response.

Joe Biden said in April: “We are considering it,” when asked by the media about Australia’s request to end the case against Assange.

But it was the UK High Court’s decision in May to allow Assange to appeal against his extradition that triggered the breakthrough in negotiations over a plea deal, according to his wife Stella.

The court’s decision meant the legal battle over extradition would likely be delayed for months more to allow time for appeals.

An initial plan for Assange to fly to New York or Washington to make his confession was changed to Saipan due to Assange’s opposition to entering the U.S. mainland, according to an Australian government official.

The agreement marks the end of a legal saga following WikiLeaks’ mass release of secret US documents in 2010 – one of the biggest security breaches in US military history.

When Assange was transferred from Belmarsh prison to London’s Stansted airport in the middle of the night on Monday, the secrecy was such that his children were not informed to prevent them revealing details about his release, according to his wife Stella Assange.

In a global outpouring of support following the news, a crowdfunding campaign to raise the $520,000 owed to the Australian government for the flights had already raised nearly £330,000 ($418,000) as of Wednesday evening.

“I don’t think this would have happened if it weren’t for the incredible support that there has been for Julian, and that has built over the years, that is global, that spans all sectors, all policies,” she said.

($1 = 0.7897 pounds)

Via Reuters.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *