Julian Assange is an Australian. He is in trouble overseas. He needs the Australian government’s help.
For six years he has been virtually a prisoner in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. The reason he is there is because he is the founder and editor of WikiLeaks, which published evidence of war crimes leaked by an American soldier, Bradley (later Chelsea) Manning as a matter of conscience. WikiLeaks has since revealed the secrets of the world’s unaccountable forces. This Australian has provided an historic public service.
The Americans have made it clear from the start that they want to get Assange, who has good reason to fear he will be mistreated the way Chelsea Manning was. That’s why this week’s events in London are so critical. Will the Ecuadorean president Lenin Moreno, at present visiting London and under pressure from Washington, abandon the man his country has so honourably protected?
Julian Assange has never been charged with any crime. In 2010, Sweden wanted to extradite him from Britain under a European Arrest Warrant. When it became clear that Sweden was likely to hand him over to the Americans, he sought asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
The Swedish case has been dropped, but the British authorities still want him for jumping bail. If he steps out of the Embassy, they will very likely hand him over to the Americans.
This Australian needs Australia’s help.
He has not seen sunshine or felt rain for 6 years. Try to imagine what it is like to be stuck indoors for 6 years. Whatever your view of what he did, 6 years inside is enough.
His health has deteriorated badly over those 6 years. I visited him at the Embassy in the middle of June: he is looking much frailer than when I saw him there in mid-2012.
His teeth are causing great pain: a dentist can’t visit him. He needs root-canal surgery, which is not possible except in a fully equipped dental surgery.
He is suffering from oedema: his legs are swelling.
His eyesight is fading, because he cannot look into the distance: the most distant thing from him inside the Embassy is a view down the corridor, which is perhaps 10 metres.
His bone-density is reducing seriously, because he has not been in the sunshine for 6 years, and exercise is difficult.
The government of Ecuador changed recently, and conditions in the Embassy have changed as well: it is now much more difficult for Assange to receive visitors, and he does not have access to a phone or the internet.
Because the British authorities are likely to hand him over to the Americans, Assange does not dare to step out of the Embassy. That’s why he needs the help of the Australian government. Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop could easily reach a diplomatic agreement with Britain to allow Assange to be brought safely back to Australia, where his family is. If the Americans want to extradite him, they can apply to an Australian Court. The Australian Government has given help to other Australians in trouble overseas – such as the journalist Peter Greste in Egypt.
It in era of diminishing rights, of widespread insecurity and injustice, it is time to recognise one who has stood against the tide. Julian Assange needs our help, urgently. The Government should give it without delay.