Julian Assange arrives residence in Australia amid warnings about press freedom | EUROtoday

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australians waited for Julian Assange’s chartered airplane to reach on residence soil with a mix of pleasure and reduction on Wednesday afternoon as politicians throughout celebration traces welcomed what they mentioned was his long-overdue launch and Assange’s ardent supporters celebrated his freedom.

A small crowd gathered exterior the U.S. Consulate in Sydney, ingesting champagne from plastic cups and holding indicators that includes the WikiLeaks founder, who was a free man after pleading responsible to 1 cost of violating the Espionage Act and being sentenced to time served.

But none had been happier than Assange’s family members, lots of whom haven’t seen the WikiLeaks founder in nearly 15 years. Assange’s father, John Shipton, instructed native media he was “doing cartwheels” of pleasure, whereas his mom, Christine Assange, mentioned the saga had “taken a toll on me as a mother.”

Assange’s spouse, Stella, and their two sons, aged 5 and seven, additionally traveled right here from their residence in London — the boys unaware that they’re about to see their father exterior a jail for the primary time.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange pleaded responsible June 26 to 1 depend of violating the Espionage Act in a U.S. federal courtroom in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands. (Video: Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

The deal was the results of two years of behind-the-scenes exhortations from Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who had privately and publicly urged President Biden to permit Assange’s launch.

“This is not something that has happened in the last 24 hours, this is something that has been considered, patient, worked through in a calibrated way, which is how Australia conducts ourselves internationally,” Albanese mentioned on Wednesday. “I have been very clear as both the Labor leader and … as prime minister that regardless of the views people have about Mr. Assange’s activities, the case has dragged on for too long. There is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia.”

Even a few of Assange’s fiercest critics mentioned it was a reduction for the worldwide saga to be over. “Assange is no hero, but it is a welcome thing that this has finally come to an end,” opposition Sen. James Paterson instructed Sky News.

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Amid the feelings, nonetheless, had been worries over what Assange’s plea deal — entered throughout a short morning pit cease within the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory — means for press freedom, around the globe and in Australia, a nation the place journalists and whistleblowers have endured setbacks just lately.

Assange maintained in courtroom Wednesday that he was a journalist and that he thought what he was doing, in publishing an avalanche of categorized U.S. authorities info, was protected by the First Amendment, contending that the best to free speech contradicted the Espionage Act.

Andrew Wilkie, an impartial member of Parliament, warned it was “a really alarming precedent” for a journalist to be prosecuted on this method. “It’s the sort of thing we’d expect in an authoritarian, totalitarian country,” he mentioned right here. “It’s not what we’d expect from the United States or a similar country like Australia. I think it sends a chill down the spine of journalists worldwide that this precedent has been set.”

Barnaby Joyce, a conservative member of Parliament who campaigned for Assange’s launch, mentioned he didn’t like Assange however the concern was “extraterritoriality.”

“Imagine if someone from the United States who did something that wasn’t a crime in the United States happened to be in England and the next thing you know is being sent to Australia to serve 175 years in jail,” he mentioned. “I imagine you’d see one of these U.S. nuclear [submarines] off our harbor, saying ‘Don’t do that.’”

While Australians have lengthy supported Assange, who grew up right here earlier than launching WikiLeaks in 2006 and turning into internationally well-known in 2010 after publishing information in regards to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States’ prosecution fed into fears some have in Australia over the deepening ties between the 2 nations.

Canberra and Washington have grown more and more shut lately, introduced collectively by a priority at China’s rising aggression within the area, with Australia agreeing to host a rotating drive of U.S. Marines in Darwin and extra just lately forming the “AUKUS” pact together with the United Kingdom. The United States has agreed to offer its ally with nuclear-powered submarines and enhance navy interoperability, sparking issues right here that Australia might be drawn right into a future battle.

That was affecting sentiment about Assange, mentioned Antony Loewenstein, an Australian journalist who has identified Assange since WikiLeaks was based and has campaigned for his launch.

“In Australia, it’s not just about whether he’s a journalist who’s been wrongfully imprisoned,” he mentioned. “It’s also about this weird unresolved issue of this unhealthy relationship between Australia and the United States.”

The longer Assange has languished in jail, the extra his case has stirred these anxieties, he added.

For his many right here in his residence nation, the query now could be whether or not the 52-year-old will resume his function as the general public face of WikiLeaks or whether or not the bodily and psychological toll of the final 14 years will dim his profile.

Outside the courthouse in Saipan, his attorneys steered that Assange would return to the general public fray. “Mr. Assange, I have no doubt, will be a continuing force for freedom of speech and transparency in government,” mentioned Barry Pollack, his American lawyer. “He is a powerful voice and a voice that cannot and should not be silenced.”

In some methods, Australia may show a difficult or maybe ripe place for the transparency activist. It is arguably essentially the most secretive liberal democracy on this planet, mentioned Johan Lidberg, head of journalism at Monash University in Melbourne, and Australia has been criticized just lately for its remedy of each whistleblowers and journalists.

The nation has fallen in press freedom rankings after a federal police raid on the general public broadcaster in 2019 — underneath the earlier conservative authorities — over an Afghan struggle crimes investigation and amid high-profile defamation fits towards journalists. A struggle crimes whistleblower was just lately sentenced to 5 years in jail, and one other whistleblower will quickly go on trial.

Albanese has promised to bolster whistleblower safety legal guidelines however to this point his authorities has not delivered, mentioned Monique Ryan, one other impartial member of Parliament who was a part of a cross-party delegation to Washington final yr to press for Assange’s launch.

“It’s incredibly important that journalists in Australia and internationally are able to report on facts,” she mentioned. “The feeling of most Australians is that is what [Assange] did: he brought to light some inconvenient truths that embarrassed world powers.”

Polls have persistently proven public help for Assange in Australia, mentioned Emma Shortis, an knowledgeable on the Australia Institute assume tank who has written in regards to the U.S.-Australia relationship. But that help has swelled lately as Australians throughout the political spectrum felt that Assange’s remedy was unfair.

“When he was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy and put into Belmarsh prison in London, I think that’s when support really increased,” mentioned Lidberg. “That’s when it went from a journalism issue to a human rights issue.”

Australia, which likes to think about itself because the land of the “fair go,” was largely fed up with Assange’s ongoing ordeal, he mentioned.

Political help for his launch has additionally grown. Albanese referred to as for Assange’s freedom earlier than his election in 2022, and Assange’s household lobbied members of each Australia’s Parliament and the U.S. Congress. Albanese himself pressed President Biden on the difficulty a number of occasions, together with throughout his White House go to in October. In April, Biden mentioned he was “considering” the request.

Assange’s launch marks a diplomatic win for Albanese, Shortis mentioned. Ryan and Wilkie agreed the prime minister deserved credit score. Joyce concurred, however warned that the federal government risked exhibiting an excessive amount of help.

“If it starts turning into a bachelor and spinster ball, that’s no good,” he mentioned.

Despite the broad political backing for Assange’s return, it’s unlikely that he’ll be the toast of Canberra, mentioned Loewenstein. WikiLeaks’ launch of diplomatic cables in 2010 embarrassed politicians within the United States and Australia.

But Loewenstein, who covers Israel and the Palestinian territories, mentioned he deliberate to quietly rejoice Assange’s return to Australia.

“This is a very rare bright spot in many people’s lives, including my own, at a time when there is so much crisis and trauma in the world,” he mentioned. “I might have a drink tonight, or two.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/06/26/julian-assange-wikileaks-australia/