National Security


June 27, 2024

Thursday 27 June 2024
Ellen Ransley
The Nightly

 Assange legal team's audacious new US presidential request for freed  Australian whistleblower ELLEN RANSLEY Julian Assange's legal team say they  now want the whistleblower to be pardoned by the United States President, as  his return home to Australia is met with mixed reaction.
 The WikiLeaks founder seen by some as a hero and others as a villain who put  lives at risk landed in Australia on Wednesday night, hours after pleading  guilty in the US outpost of Saipan to one charge of espionage, relating to  the troves of top secret documents he obtained and published.
 Ending a 14-year legal saga, Assange was sentenced to time already served,  with the judge taking into consideration the 62 months he spent in the United  Kingdom's Belmarsh prison.
 He flew home, accompanied by US Ambassador Kevin Rudd and UK High  Commissioner Stephen Smith, as a free man. Stepping off the tarmac in  Canberra, he embraced his wife Stella Assange and father John Shipton, and  was met with raucous applause and celebration at the airport.
 His supporters later turned out in droves to a Canberra hotel where Mrs  Assange and his lawyers called a late night press conference, hoping to get a  glimpse of the man despite the fact he never appeared who has for so long  divided public opinion.
 That was followed by a separate press conference at Parliament House on  Thursday, in which Mrs Assange, pictured, pleaded for patience and privacy as  her husband readjusted to life as a free man. She would not be drawn on  whether he would continue his pursuits as a whistleblower or if he would  "do it all again".
 "He needs time to rest and to recover, and he's rediscovering normal  life. And he needs space to do that," she said.
 His legal team say they will now focus on trying to get Assange pardoned by  the US president.
 "President (Joe) Biden or any subsequent president absolutely can, and  in my mind should, issue a pardon for Julian Assange," his US lawyer  Barry Pollock said.
 "Obviously he's just been released, he's just gotten home, and I suspect  that will take some time. But I certainly hope and expect that the same kind  of support that he received when he was in prison will again gather steam,  and the President or the future president will have the wisdom to do  so."
 Before Assange could be reunited with his family on Wednesday night, he spoke  via phone with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who his team have said was  vital in getting him home.
 According to Assange's lawyers, he told the PM how he had "saved his  life" and thanked Mr Albanese and his diplomatic "A-team" for  getting him home.
 Mr Albanese had also called a press conference coinciding with Asssange's  arrival to spruik the work of his Government and Australian diplomats in  working "tirelessly" on ending the case.
 "This is the culmination of careful, patient and determined advocacy,  work that I am very proud of," Mr Albanese said.
 He said regardless of whatever people's views were of Assange, the legal  battle had "gone on for too long" and there was "nothing to be  gained" by further incarceration. The phone call has attracted criticism  from the Coalition, who say it wasn't appropriate and might "not age  very well".
 Shadow home affairs minister James Paterson expressed sympathy for Assange's  loved ones and supporters distressed by the long legal battle, but said Mr  Albanese shouldn't make comparisons between the whistleblower and  "innocent" detained Australians like Cheng Lei, Sean Turnell and  Kylie Moore-Gilbert.
 "These were Australians who were innocent. They were persecuted for  other reasons, by authoritiarian power," he said. "Mr Assange  evaded the war for extradition requests, first by hiding in the Ecuadorian  embassy (in London for seven years), then by using his legal rights in the  United Kingdom to challenge them over so many years.
 "He is now someone who has pled guilty to very serious national security  offences, which are not just offences against the United States, they're  offences against the Five Eyes intelligence gathering alliance, including  Australia, because they put the sources of that alliance at great risk.
 "I think the Prime Minister's embrace of Mr Assange might not age very  well once Mr Assange starts tweeting again and his contemporary political  views are shared with the public."
 Simon Birmingham, the shadow foreign affairs minister, claimed the phone call  risked damaging the US-Australia alliance.
 Standing alongside Mrs Assange on Thursday was independent MP Andrew Wilkie  co-chair of the parliamentary group supporting Assange who said that the end  of the whistleblower's plight would benefit Australia's relationship with the  US.
 "The incarceration of Julian Assange was a thorn in the side of that  relationship ... So I now see reason to be very optimistic about that  bilateral relationship," Mr Wilkie said.
 Greens Senator David Shoebridge added: "If an Australian Prime Minister  talking to an Australian citizen challenges the relationship with the United  States, there is a problem with the relationship".
 Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said if Senator Birmingham believed the  PM's response damaged the relationship, he should also criticise his  colleagues who advocated for Assange's release. "Senator Birmingham  should answer whether or not Senator Canavan's outspoken support for Mr  Assange has damaged the alliance," she said.
 Under his plea deal, Assange was not allowed to enter the US without  permission and was ordered to destroy any unpublished documents.
 Mrs Assange said her husband was also "not allowed to make freedom of  information requests from the US government".

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