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Former Australian PM Kevin Rudd says Assange faces ‘unacceptable’ and ‘disproportionate’ punishment

Rudd says Assange faces ‘unacceptable’ and ‘disproportionate’ punishment By Rob Harris, Kevin Rudd says Julian Assange would pay an “unacceptable” and “disproportionate” price if he is extradited to the United States, arguing the WikiLeaks founder should not take the fall for Washington’s failures to secure its own classified documents.

In a significant intervention into Mr Assange’s extradition fight, the former Australian prime minister said US prosecutors had not made any specific allegations that anyone was seriously harmed as a consequence of the release of highly classified documents relating to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in 2010.

The Morrison government is resisting a rising tide of demands to intervene in the case of the 48-year-old Australian citizen, as his supporters grow increasingly concerned over his deteriorating health in a British prison.

Mr Rudd, himself targeted in WikiLeaks’ publication of more than 250,000 leaked diplomatic cables nine years ago, said while he had “serious reservations” about Mr Assange’s character and conduct, he did not believe he should be extradited to face an “effective life sentence” in the US.

In a letter to the Bring Julian Assange Home Queensland Network, seen by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Rudd said he could not see the difference between Mr Assange and the editors of many American media outlets that reported the material he had provided them.  

“If [the US prosecutors’] case is essentially that Mr Assange broke the law by obtaining and disclosing secret information, then I struggle to see what separates him from any journalist who solicits, obtains and publishes such information,” Mr Rudd wrote.

“In other words, why should Mr Assange be tried, convicted and incarcerated while those who publicly released the information are afforded protection under provisions of the US constitution concerning press freedom?”

The group was briefed by barrister Jen Robinson, a member of Mr Assange’s London legal team, as well as Greg Barns from the Australian Assange Campaign and human rights and due process advocate Aloysia Brooks.

Mr Rudd said he was “deeply opposed” to the leaking of classified diplomatic or intelligence communications, which needed to be protected to maintain Australia’s national security interests and that of its allies.

“Ultimate responsibility for keeping sensitive information secure rests with governments. The United States government demonstrably failed to effectively secure the classified documents relevant to this case,” he wrote.

“The result was the mass leaking of sensitive diplomatic cables, including some that caused me some political discomfort at the time. However, an effective life sentence is an unacceptable and disproportionate price to pay. I would therefore oppose his extradition.”

More than 60 doctors from the United Kingdom, Australia, Europe and Sri Lanka, wrote to British Home Secretary Priti Patel on Monday asserting that Mr Assange urgently needs medical treatment at a university hospital.

The doctors said in a letter, distributed by WikiLeaks on Monday, that he was suffering from psychological problems including depression as well as dental issues and a serious shoulder ailment.

Mr Barns welcomed Mr Rudd’s intervention saying his comments, like his former colleague Bob Carr, rightly pointed to the threat to freedom of the media.

“The Australian government and all MPs we hope will place pressure on the US to make it understand that the treatment of an Australian citizen this way is not something that should happen,” Mr Barns said.

“Mr Rudd and Mr Carr could never be described as anti-Washington but they clearly understand the need for Canberra to take action to prevent this gross injustice.”

Mr Assange will return to court briefly next month before a full hearing of a US extradition request in which he faces a 175-year jail sentence if found guilty on 18 charges relating to computer fraud and obtaining and disclosing national defence information.

November 26, 2019 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA, civil liberties

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