Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says Julian Assange should not be extradited to the United States to face espionage charges, calling for the WikiLeaks founder to either be put on trial in Britain or brought back to Australia.
Mr Joyce said the Australian citizen, who has spent more than two years in Belmarsh Prison in south-east London, should not be forcibly sent to the US because he was not on American soil at the time of his alleged offences.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says Julian Assange should either be put on trial in Britain or sent back to Australia.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
“I have no standing in the British courts. But in that birthplace of the common law, I hope the learned come to a just conclusion,” Mr Joyce writes in an opinion piece for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. “They should try him there for any crime he is alleged to have committed on British soil or send him back to Australia, where he is a citizen.”
His comments were echoed by Liberal MP Bridget Archer, who said Assange should be released and returned to Australia.
Assange is trying to avoid extradition to the US to face 18 charges relating to the publication of hundreds of thousands of classified military documents and diplomatic cables more than a decade ago. Before being sent to Belmarsh, he sheltered at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for seven years.
Mr Joyce has previously opposed Assange’s extradition to the US as a backbench MP. But this is his first contribution to the debate since he retook the Nationals leadership in June and England’s High Court last week ruled Assange could be extradited to the US.
He is now deputy chair of the powerful national security committee of cabinet, which considers the major foreign policy and national security issues for the federal government.
Mr Joyce urged people to set aside their personal opinion of Assange, adding he had never met the 50-year-old but from his observation, he didn’t respect him and “I presume I would not like him”.
“It is a case of how our citizen is protected and judged. Imagine a sliding door moment and it was not Assange but you who was in court in Britain,” he said.
Mr Joyce said people needed to “set aside the grave issues that surround the actions of Assange” from whether he should be extradited to the US.
“Assange did not steal any US secret files, US citizen Chelsea Manning did. Assange did publish them.
“In Australia, he received a Walkley Award in journalism for it. Assange was not in breach of any Australian laws at the time of his actions. Assange was not in the US when the event being deliberated in a court now in London occurred.
“The question is then: Why is he to be extradited to the US? If he insulted the Koran, would he be extradited to Saudi Arabia?”
Mr Joyce sad liberal democracies needed to uphold a “vessel of rights” that included the “right to liberty and the right to habeas corpus”.
“If we are content that this process of extraditing one Australian to the US for [allegedly] breaking its laws even when he was not in that country is fair, are we prepared, therefore, to accept it as a precedent for applying to any other laws of any other nation to any of our citizens?”
Asked for a response to Mr Joyce’s comments, a government spokesman said its position was unchanged.
“Australia will continue to respect UK legal processes, noting that these are ongoing proceedings,” the spokesman said.
Mr Joyce’s intervention has angered some Coalition MPs, who say Assange’s actions in publishing national security secrets put Australian lives at risk in war zones.
There are more than 20 members of a parliamentary group set up to oppose Assange’s extradition, but only three Coalition MPs have signed up: Mr Joyce, Ms Archer and Nationals MP George Christensen.
Ms Archer said she believed Assange should be “released and returned to Australia” and she would “continue to advocate for diplomatic action for that to occur”.
“I appreciate that there are a range of views in relation to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks,” she said. “The fact is that he is an Australian citizen who continues to suffer significant mental and physical health issues as a result of his ongoing incarceration because of the protracted legal battle.”
Labor MP Julian Hill, a longstanding opponent of Assange’s potential extradition, said he hoped the Deputy Prime Minister’s comments would give other Coalition MPs the “courage and cover to speak up and say enough is enough”.
“There is no legal resolution to this case, it can only ever be resolved politically,” Mr Hill said.
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