Above Photo: Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce says US attempts to extradite Julian Assange test “the essence of sovereignty”. CREDIT:AAP
Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce has joined calls for the Morrison government to try to halt Julian Assange’s potential extradition from Britain to the United States on espionage charges, as the WikiLeaks founder’s supporters intensify their campaign to bring him to Australia.
Mr Joyce joined former foreign minister Bob Carr in voicing concerns over US attempts to have the 48-year-old Australian stand trial in America, where he faces a sentence of 175 years if found guilty of computer fraud and obtaining and disclosing national defence information.
Also seeking to increase pressure on the federal government is actress Pamela Anderson, who is demanding to meet Prime Minister Scott Morrison to request he intervene in the case. She plans to visit Australia next month.
Assange’s supporters say they are increasingly concerned about his health and his ability to receive a fair trial in the US.
Mr Joyce, a former National Party leader and now a government backbencher, said his support for Assange should not be “taken as a character reference about him”.
“I support the proper process of Australian law as applied to our citizens in our land in respect of our laws; it is the essence of sovereignty,” Mr Joyce told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has told a London court he doesn’t agree to extradition to the United States. It wants to try him over the Wikileaks breach of hundreds of thousands of confidential data.
Mr Carr has challenged Foreign Minister Marise Payne to make “firm and friendly” representation to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, believing Australians would be “deeply uneasy” at a fellow citizen being handed over to the “living hell of a lifetime sentence in an American penitentiary”.
Mr Joyce, who in 2007 was the first Coalition MP to call for the then Howard government to act over the detention of Australian David Hicks in Guantanamo Bay, said his position was principled and he gave “no opinion of Mr Assange whatsoever”.
“If someone was in another country at a time an alleged event occurred then the sovereignty of the land they were in has primacy over the accusation of another nation,” Mr Joyce said.
“It would be totally unreasonable, for instance, if China was to say the actions of an Australian citizen whilst in Australia made them liable to extradition to China to answer their charges of their laws in China. Many in Hong Kong have the same view.”
Assange is serving a 50-week sentence in Belmarsh Prison in south-east London for bail violations after spending seven years inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden to answer allegations of rape and molestation in 2012.
In June, the then British home secretary, Sajid Javid, signed an extradition request after the US Justice Department filed an additional 18 Espionage Act charges over Assange’s role in obtaining and publishing 400,000 classified US military documents on the war in Iraq in 2010.
Mr Carr, the former NSW premier who served as foreign minister in the Gillard government, said he understood many people would have reservations about the “modus operandi” of Assange and his alleged contact with Russia.
“On the other hand, we have an absolute right to know about American war crimes in a conflict that the Australian government of the day strongly supported – we wouldn’t know about them except for Assange,” he said.
Mr Carr said the Morrison government should make strong representations to the US on behalf of an Australian citizen who “is in trouble because he delivered on our right to know”.
“I think the issue will gather pace and in the ultimate trial there’ll be a high level of Australian public concern, among conservative voters as much as any others.”
Barrister Greg Barns, an adviser to the Australian Assange campaign, said Assange was in “extremely poor health”.
Mr Barns said he believed the comments of Mr Joyce and Mr Carr would lead to others speaking out.
Canadian-American actress Pamela Anderson, a former Baywatch star, said on Friday that she would use her visit to Australia in November to “petition Prime Minister Morrison” to intervene on behalf of Assange, saying he was being made a scapegoat and had “suffered inhumanely for disseminating factual information we all should know about”.
Mr Morrison, who mocked Anderson’s intervention on behalf of Assange last November, has previously said Assange would receive consular support but would not get special treatment.
When asked last month if the US still intended to prosecute Assange, President Donald Trump told reporters alongside Mr Morrison during the Prime Minister’s visit to the White House: “That’s a question I haven’t heard in a long time. I’ll leave that for you to determine”.
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on Sunday night: “The Australian government cannot interfere in the United Kingdom’s legal processes, just as another country cannot interfere in ours.
“We are confident that Mr Assange will receive due process in any legal proceedings,” he said.