Assange likely to push for press freedom in Australia

Aaron Sheldrick |

Julian Assange’s supporters say he will have a prominent role to play in promoting press freedom.
Julian Assange’s supporters say he will have a prominent role to play in promoting press freedom.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has not commented publicly on his plans after he was set free following more than a decade in hiding and prison, but his supporters say he will be vocal about press freedom.

Assange is on a chartered private business jet en route to Canberra’s Fairbairn military airbase and may comment on his plans after arrival.

He is making the journey after his court hearing in tropical Saipan earlier on Wednesday, an improbable location for the end game of his fight with the US Justice Department, following his release from a maximum security prison in the UK.

He was free to go after pleading guilty to one count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defence documents and was sentenced to 62 months – time he has already served.

Australia's Assange campaign adviser Greg Barns.
Greg Barns says Julian Assange is a stand-out case of press freedom being curbed. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Greg Barns SC, legal adviser to the Australian Assange Campaign, says after time decompressing with his wife and young children, Assange is likely to have a prominent role to play.

“In terms of Australians who have been confronted with press freedom difficulties Mr Assange is the stand-out case,” Mr Barns said.

“It would be of immense value to not only this country and the democratic traditions of this country but globally for him to play a key role in ensuring that press freedom, which is under attack in many parts of the world, is maintained.

“Transparency or lack thereof is a real issue in Australia because we don’t have adequate protections for whistle blowers and any contribution he can make in this space would be extraordinarily valuable,” Mr Barns said.

He referred to the recent case of former military lawyer David McBride, who was sentenced to almost six years in jail for sharing classified information with journalists, as an example.

lawyer Barry Pollack.
Lawyer Barry Pollack says Julian Assange will be “a continuing force for freedom of speech”. (EPA PHOTO)

“Mr Assange is grateful for all of the support that he has received and looks forward to reuniting with his wife and his children and getting back home to Australia,” Barry Pollack, one of his lawyers, said outside the courtroom in Saipan after the hearing.

“Wikileaks’ work will continue, and Mr Assange, I have no doubt, will be a continuing force for freedom of speech and transparency in government. He is a powerful voice, and a voice that cannot and should not be silenced,” Mr Pollack said.

Whatever the future holds, Assange’s supporters say he won’t be taking on the US government anytime soon.