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The tide is turning for Assange: PEN Update

January 08, 2023 IN WIP
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The tide is turning for Assange: PEN Update


By Con Pakavakis, PEN Melbourne Writers for Peace Committee


Since a PEN Melbourne and Sydney meeting in Parliament House with senior Labor MP Graham Perrett, there seems to have been a flurry of movement giving rise to increased hopes that PM Albanese and his government are seriously seeking an unconditional release of Julian Assange.


The official Assange Campaign has released an optimistic press statement which is included below this timeline of events:


24 September 2022  PEN Melbourne and Sydney representatives meet in Parliament House with a senior Labor MP Graham Perrett

28 Sept 2022 John Shipton meeting in Parliament House with Penny Wong

29 Sept 2022 Central News posted an Exclusive: Albanese government “working” on Assange case by Jessica D’Souza:

In an exclusive interview with Central News John Shipton said Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had conveyed through third parties that the government was “working on” his son’s case.

If so, it would be the first acknowledgment that the Australian government is actively in discussion with the US government about the matter.

“Anthony Albanese has stated that he was moved to bring Julian home. He’s sort of on a promise on it. He’s sent messages to me via third parties that he’s working on it, and so we expect to have Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to hold to his promise and we will continue in that vein.”

The Prime Minister’s Office, when contacted by Central News, would neither confirm nor deny conversations with Shipton through third parties had taken place or that there had been discussions with the US government, instead referring to previous statements made by the Prime Minister that he would not be commenting publicly on the matter.

28 November 2022: The five media organisations that first helped Assange publish leaked diplomatic cables urged the US government to drop its prosecution of the WikiLeaks co-founder because it is undermining press freedom. In a combined statement the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El País wrote:

This indictment sets a dangerous precedent, and threatens to undermine America’s first amendment and the freedom of the press.

Obtaining and disclosing sensitive information when necessary in the public interest is a core part of the daily work of journalists. If that work is criminalised, our public discourse and our democracies are made significantly weaker.


30 November 2022: Question in Parliament by independent MP Dr Monique Ryan:

“Australian citizen Julian Assange is still contained in Belmarsh prison, charged by a foreign government with acts of journalism. Mr Assange’s freedom will only come from political intervention. Will the government intervene to bring Mr Assange home?”


PM Albanese’s reply may have been enough to convince the UK’s minister for the Indo-Pacific, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, and its high commissioner to Australia, Vicki Treadell, who were both in the audience.


“ I, sometime ago, made my point that enough is enough. It is time for this matter to be brought to a conclusion. In that, I don’t express any personal sympathy with some of the actions of Mr Assange. I do say though that this issue has gone on for many years now, and when you look at the issue of Mr Assange and compare that with the person responsible for leaking the information, Bradley Manning, now Chelsea Manning, she is now able to participate freely in US society.

The government will continue to act in a diplomatic way, but can I assure the member for Kooyong that I have raised this personally with representatives of the US administration that it is time that this matter be brought to a close. This is an Australian citizen. As I said, I don’t have sympathy for Mr Assange’s actions, on a whole range of matters. But, having said that, you have to reach a point whereby what is the point of this continuing, this legal action, which could be caught up now for many years into the future? So I will continue to advocate, as I did recently in meetings that I have held. I thank the member for her question and for her genuine interest in this, along with so many Australian citizens who have contacted me about this issue.”

  • The Prime Minister Mr Albanese, Page 50, Hansard Excerpt Julian Assange


December: 2022 Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers, told BBC Hardtalk that he had been given US diplomatic cables “as a backup” by Julian Assange and challenged the US Justice Department saying “I am as indictable as he is on the exact same charges. I will plead “not guilty” on grounds of your blatantly unconstitutional use of the Espionage Act. Let’s take this to the Supreme Court”


20 December, 2022: Kevin Rudd was appointed US Ambassador.

“As far back as 2010, when WikiLeaks published the war cables, Rudd has repeatedly insisted the US government and Manning should be held responsible for the disclosure of secret material rather than Assange.” – The Age, 7 Jan, 2023


1 January, 2023: John Lyons made a controversial statement that has sparked a ray of optimism.

Speaking on ABC News Breakfast, Lyons, the Global Affairs Editor of the ABC,

predicted the unconditional release of Assange within two months. This could only happen by two scenarios: the UK refuses the extradition, or President Biden drops the charges. A third scenario of Albanese negotiating a Hicks style plea bargain with the US now seems unlikely if Lyons’ tip of an unconditional release is accurate.


7 January, 2023: The Age and SMH headlines: The year Assange walks free? Why there are cautious hopes By Matthew Knott. Extracts from his article:

Earlier this week, ABC global affairs editor John Lyons heightened anticipation by declaring on air: “My expectation is that within the next two months or so Julian Assange will be released.” Lyons’ prediction caused a frisson not just because of its definitive timeframe but because it was made by one of the country’s most experienced journalists. Lyons previously served as editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, as the ABC’s head of current affairs and investigations, and as executive producer of Nine’s Sunday program.

The main reason for the growing optimism is that Australia has a prime minister actively working to try to secure Assange’s release, even if it requires spending diplomatic capital with our most important ally. The Morrison government took a hands-off approach on the grounds Assange’s case should be allowed to play out in the British and US legal systems.

In opposition, Albanese said he believed Assange’s case had dragged on too long and needed to come to an end. During his early months as prime minister, he kept quiet about the issue, vowing not to pursue “megaphone diplomacy”. That changed in November when he gave a strikingly forthright response to a question by independent MP Monique Ryan.

“I have raised this personally with representatives of the United States government,” Albanese told parliament. “My position is clear and has been made clear to the US administration. I will continue to advocate, as I did recently in meetings that I have held.”

Albanese was essentially confirming he had raised the issue directly with Biden, given the pair met for 45 minutes just a fortnight earlier in Phnom Penh.

Then came Albanese’s decision, just before Christmas, to appoint former prime minister Kevin Rudd as Australia’s ambassador to the US. As far back as 2010, when WikiLeaks published the war cables, Rudd has repeatedly insisted the US government and Manning should be held responsible for the disclosure of secret material rather than Assange.


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Supporters of award-winning journalist and WikiLeaks publisher, Julian Assange say the World’s most famous political prisoner may be unconditionally released as soon as March this year.


Julian’s freedom has now been arbitrarily detained for almost 13 years since he published a series of 250,000 confidential US diplomatic documents known as Cablegate, that were leaked to him by US Military Analyst, Chelsea Manning.


For seven years he sought asylum in the London Ecuadorian Embassy where he was arrested on 12 April 2019 and has been held since without conviction in the high-security British Belmarsh Prison usually used for terrorists and members of organised crime groups. Julian faces extradition to the US and a sentence of up to 175 years in an American maximum-security prison.

“There is a global wave of support for Julian’s release” said brother, Gabriel Shipton.

“The hypocrisy of Julian’s persecution is so obvious even his detractors are calling for his release. They join every major press freedom and human rights NGO, a growing list of world leaders, journalist associations and unions, plus millions of everyday concerned citizens.”


On ABC TV News Breakfast this week, Global Affairs Editor John Lyons said he expects Julian will be ‘unconditionally released’ by March.


“My sources tell me that there is considerable movement behind the scenes on the matter of Julian Assange and that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is strongly in favour of the matter being brought to an end within the next two months, with the release of Mr Assange. The overwhelming sentiment in the Australian Cabinet is that the US military officer involved in the whole matter is now free yet the Australian publisher remains in prison,” said John Lyons.


On 28 November last year, the original five media groups who helped Julian and WikiLeaks publish ‘Cablegate’ in 2010, united to call on the US to drop the charges against Julian. In a letter to US President Joe Biden, the editors and publishers of The New York Times (US), The Guardian (UK), Der Spiegel (Germany), Le Monde (France) and El Pais (Spain) citied that the continued US persecution of Julian it is a direct attack on press freedom and sets a dangerous precedence for the future of journalism and free speech.


Publishing is not a crime: The US government should end its prosecution of Julian Assange for publishing secrets.

On 4 December, Elon Musk conducted a 24-hour Twitter poll asking if Julian Assange should be pardoned, 3.3 million people responded with 80.5% saying that Julian should be pardoned.


At the Woodford Folk Festival last week, Prime Minister Albanese reiterated his statement made in the Australian Parliament on 30 November 2022. He told festival-goers that he has made diplomatic requests on behalf of Julian Assange: “It is time that this matter be brought to a close. We have made representations to the US Government. We have made our views very clear to the US administration and we will continue to do that.”

In London, Julian’s wife Stella Assange said that their legal team has made a request for Julian to attend the funeral of his close friend and staunch supporter, Dame Vivienne Westwood.

“There is no obvious reason why the prison would not be able to grant the request. There are good compassionate grounds why it should,” said Stella Assange, whose wedding dress and son’s wedding kilts were designed by the late designer.

Additional quotes from Stella Assange:
“Julian is 51. He was 39 when I met him, and I have never known him as a free man. Julian is a husband. A father to two young children. He is an award-winning publisher. He is a political prisoner relentlessly persecuted for publishing truthful information that was unquestionably in the public interest.


He is currently detained in the crushingly oppressive Belmarsh Prison, known as Britain’s Guantanamo Bay. Julian is locked up for over 20 hours a day.


His mental and physical health are in steady decline because of his mistreatment over the years, and because of his day-to-day environment which he has had to endure month after month, year after year. He is an innocent man that needs to be allowed his freedom.


If he is extradited to the United States his treatment will only get far, far worse. Julian’s freedom is the ultimate test for Western democracy. Julian’s life hangs in the balance. His imprisonment is intolerable on every level.”


Quotes from Greg Barns SC, Assange Campaign Legal Advisor and Tony Nagy, Assange Campaign Policy Advisor:


“On Wednesday and Thursday this week, the UK and Canadian Governments are hosting a conference in London called Defend Media Freedom. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne is participating.

The irony is, that in the same city behind bars languishes Julian Assange, the journalist and publisher of WikiLeaks. His ‘crime’ is reporting on murders and other atrocities committed by the US and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Reporting war crimes is a duty for every citizen. For journalists it can often be the pinnacle of their career.

Julian Assange and WikiLeaks revealed to the world in 2010 the war crimes, including the killing of journalists, of the United States and its allies in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That Assange finds himself fighting an attempt by the United States to jail him for 175 years because of the fact that he did his duty, represents an attack on that duty.”

See all 224 Assange supporter organisations

Available for further media comment:

  • Gabriel Shipton – brother of Julian Assange
  • John Shipton – father of Julian Assange
  • Greg Barns SC – Assange Campaign Legal Advisor

Media contact:   Jodie Harrison  0425 754 370

Copyright © 2023 Assange Campaign inc, All rights reserved.

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People say that (writers) are pretty powerless: we don’t have an army, we don’t have a bureaucracy. But if that were true, then why would writers be arrested?... Because the spoken word is powerful.

— John Ralston Saul on the work of PEN International