Silent Assange’s presence felt as lawyer takes stage

Aaron Sheldrick |

The spectre of Julian Assange will be hanging over proceedings at the National Press Club when his lawyer speaks about the plight of the son of another famous client.

Assange’s London barrister Jennifer Robinson will take to the podium in Canberra on Monday with Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, a human rights lawyer, and Sebastian Lai, the son of the publisher of Hong Kong’s now-closed Apple Daily newspaper Jimmy Lai, who is behind bars on trial.

The trio will speak about Jimmy Lai’s trial, press freedom and democracy in Hong Kong after China started enforcing a new security law that has been accompanied by the jailing of many democracy campaigners.

The younger Lai is leading a campaign to secure the release of his father, who has been on trial for more than 70 days for colluding with “foreign forces”.

The question of whether Assange can be counted as a news publisher has been heavily debated in the days since the WikiLeaks founder was released and flown to Canberra. 

He has not commented publicly since his return but many others have had plenty to say on that issue and whether he put lives at risk by releasing a trove of US intelligence documents. 

Assange pleaded guilty to an espionage charge in a US court on the island of Saipan with the judge who rubber-stamped the plea deal on Wednesday saying no one had been harmed by the revelations.

Asked on ABC Insiders on Sunday whether he still held the view that Assange had put lives in danger, Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said he was “comfortable” with how the situation had been resolved.

Richard Marles
Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles says Julian Assange’s case had “dragged on without resolution”. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

“I don’t think it serves to go over the actions that he undertook in the past,” Mr Marles said, after being shown a clip of him saying in 2016 that Assange had put “a whole lot of people’s lives at risk including Australian service personnel”.

“I didn’t say at that time, nor did anyone say at that time, that the consequence of Mr Assange’s actions then should be indefinite incarceration for the rest of his life. 

“And what we were seeing was his case dragged on without resolution. 

“It had gone on for far too long.”

After years behind bars and a protracted, polarising legal saga, Assange has spent his first days back on home soil with his family.

His wife has said he would swim every day and savour “real food” as he sought to return to normal life.

Assange arrived back in Australia on Wednesday for the first time in 14 years, landing in Canberra after he left the UK in a plea deal struck with US authorities.