Australia has no issue with Julian Assange returning to his home country if his massive extradition battle with the United States government is resolved in his favour.
Overnight on Monday, a UK judge ruled the WikiLeaks founder should not be extradited to the US to face espionage charges due to concerns about his mental health and US jail conditions.
Judge Vanessa Baraitser delivered her verdict at London’s Old Bailey court, saying she was alarmed by the effect incarceration in Britain’s Belmarsh prison has had on the 49-year-old Australian activist’s mental health.
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“Faced with the conditions of near total isolation without the protective factors which limited his risk at HMP Belmarsh, I am satisfied the procedures described by the US will not prevent Mr Assange from finding a way to commit suicide and for this reason I have decided extradition would be oppressive by reason of mental harm and I order his discharge,” she told the court.
But the US government has signalled it intends to appeal the ruling within the next 14 days.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said while Australia was not a party to the case, Assange was being offered continuous consular support as he continues to fight his case.
“Assuming that all that turns out, then he’s like any other Australian – he’d be free to return home if he if he wished,” Mr Morrison told Melbourne radio 3AW on Tuesday.
However, Assange’s Australian lawyer Jennifer Robinson warned this would not necessarily protect him from further US attempts to extradite him.
Federal MPs, speaking under the umbrella of the Bring Julian Assange Home Parliamentary Group, agreed.
“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,” LNP MP George Christensen said in a statement.
The MPs, who include Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie, also said that while the UK court ruling was a vital step in Assange’s fight for justice, it didn’t address freedom of speech and media freedom.
The US Department of Justice noted it’s UK legal team had won all of its arguments against Assange relating to freedom of speech.
Australia’s Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance, of which Assange is a member, said journalists everywhere should be concerned.
“Julian has suffered a 10-year ordeal for trying to bring information of public interest to the light of day,” MEAA Media Federal President Marcus Strom said.
“But we are dismayed that the judge showed no concern for press freedom in any of her comments, and effectively accepted the US arguments that journalists can be prosecuted for exposing war crimes and other government secrets, and for protecting their sources.”
Ms Robinson said the judge’s decision had “massive” implications for free speech.
“This was not a win from a free speech point of view in terms of her findings on the criminalisation of journalistic conduct,” she said.
US authorities have charged Assange with violating the Espionage Act by conspiring with former US military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to leak a trove of classified material in 2010 relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The secret documents were released on WikiLeaks while Assange also collaborated with journalists at prominent news outlets.
If the extradition bid is successful, Assange faces 17 counts of espionage and one count of hacking, with a possible penalty of up to 175 years in prison.
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