'Political fix' needed for Wikileaks' Assange - lawyer

  • World
  • Friday, 21 Oct 2022

FILE PHOTO: Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange create a human chain outside Houses of Parliament during a protest, in London, Britain October 8, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A lawyer for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said an "urgent political fix" is needed in his case because legal appeals against his extradition to the United States could continue for another decade and his health is declining.

Barrister Jennifer Robinson has been on Assange's legal team for 12 years, and during a visit to Australia said she hoped the new Australian government could provide a breakthrough, after its public statements that Australian-born Assange's case has "gone on long enough".

She also called for the new British prime minister - "whoever that ends up being" - to take a position on free speech and raise the case with the United States.

Assange, 50, is wanted by U.S. authorities on 18 counts, including a spying charge, relating to WikiLeaks' release of vast troves of confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic cables, which Washington said had put lives in danger.

In June, Britain's Home Secretary approved Assange's extradition to the United States. His legal team has filed for an appeal in Britain's High Court, which will rule on the appeal after receiving the U.S. government's response.

"It could take a number of years before we end up appealing and we will take it all the way. If we have to go to the European Court of Human Rights we will," Robinson said in an interview in Sydney.

"This case is political and needs an urgent political fix," she added.

The saga began at the end of 2010 when Sweden sought Assange's extradition from Britain over allegations of sex crimes. When he lost that case in 2012, he fled to the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he spent seven years.

When he was removed from the embassy in April 2019, he was jailed for breaching British bail conditions, although the Swedish case against him had been dropped. He has been fighting extradition since June 2019 and remains in jail.

Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, elected in May, has said he stands by comments made while he was opposition leader, that "enough is enough", although his government will use private, diplomatic channels to raise the issue with the United States.

"We certainly hope that this will be the end of the case and the Australian government will be able to bring him home," Robinson said.

Concerns about Assange's health include a mini stroke last year and medical evidence put to the extradition hearing that prison conditions increased the risk of suicide, she said.

Australia's attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, said last week he would not comment publicly on the government's diplomacy on the matter.

Britain's Home Affairs office has said the courts had concluded Assange's extradition would not be incompatible with his human rights, and that he would be treated appropriately.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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