Australia can do the ‘right thing’ in new press fight

Aaron Sheldrick |

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange returned to Australia flanked by his lawyer Jennifer Robinson.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange returned to Australia flanked by his lawyer Jennifer Robinson.

Australia should join other democracies standing up for press freedom by calling for the release of Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, Julian Assange’s lawyer says.

Jennifer Robinson will address the National Press Club on Monday with Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, a human rights lawyer, and Sebastian Lai, the son of jailed Mr Lai.

In an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, Ms Robinson and Ms Gallagher write the imprisonment of the Apple Daily founder, a Chinese-language newspaper, is part of an increasing crackdown on journalism across the region.

“Australia did the right thing to stand up for Julian Assange,” she writes.

“It can do the right thing again by standing up for free speech in Hong Kong, and joining the UK and US in calling for Jimmy Lai’s release.”

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 resulted in the jailing of pro-democracy campaigners.

Mr Lai’s son 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 others have debated 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 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 a protracted legal battle, 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.