Biden comment on Assange charges ‘encouraging’: PM

Andrew Brown |

The media union has written to the government as Julian Assange marks five years in UK detention.
The media union has written to the government as Julian Assange marks five years in UK detention.

Signals from US President Joe Biden that the prosecution of Julian Assange could be dropped are “encouraging”, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says.

Asked overnight for his response to Australian requests to end the US government’s pursuit of the Wikileaks founder. Mr Biden said: “We are considering it”.

President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference overnight.
Mr Biden was asked about Assange while hosting an event with Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. (AP PHOTO)

US prosecutors want to try Assange on 18 counts, mainly under the Espionage Act, over WikiLeaks’ release in 2010 of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables.

Mr Albanese said the president’s response was a positive sign in the campaign to get the charges against the Australian dropped.

“This is an encouraging statement from President Biden,” he told ABC TV on Thursday.

“We have raised, on behalf of Mr Assange, Australia’s national interest that enough is enough and this needs to be brought to a conclusion.

“We’ve raised it at each level of government, in every possible way.

“We’ll continue to engage diplomatically in that in order to achieve an outcome that I believe Australians want to see.”

Assange is fighting extradition in the UK High Court to avoid facing espionage charges in the US.

The court in March said the US had to provide assurances that Assange would not face the death penalty.

Mr Albanese in February backed a motion moved by Independent MP Andrew Wilkie in the lower house of the federal parliament calling for the return of Assange to Australia.

Independent Member for Clark Andrew Wilkie
Independent Member for Clark Andrew Wilkie attended a rally for Assange in Canberra in February. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

“Mr Assange has already paid a significant price and enough is enough, there’s nothing to be gained by Mr Assange’s continued incarceration,” he said.

Mr Wilkie, a long-time advocate for Assange, said Mr Biden’s comment was heartening.

“Obviously very encouraging – so long as they were considered remarks and not just a passing comment, then I think we can get some comfort from the fact that the US government is listening to the Australian government,” he told ABC Radio.

“Regardless of what (Australians) think of Julian Assange personally, and regardless of what they think Wikileaks did many years ago, I think most people now say this has gone on long enough and the US should drop the charges.”

Meanwhile, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance has written to Mr Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong urging them to publicly call upon the US government to drop its charges against the WikiLeaks’ founder.

The alliance’s letter to the government on Thursday comes on the fifth anniversary of Assange’s detention in the UK.

“As we draw closer to the US Presidential election (in November), the opportunity for a satisfactory resolution to this case diminishes,” federal president Karen Percy said.

AAP