Julian Assange fears Australia offer a legal trap


Julian Assange’s lawyers fear offer to return to Australia would result in extradition

Julian Assange’s legal team have rejected Scott Morrison’s assertion that the WikiLeaks founder could return to Australia...

Lawyers for Julian Assange have rejected Scott Morrison’s claim he can simply return to Australia if a final legal attempt to extradite him on espionage charges fails, warning the United States could promptly launch new legal proceedings here.

There are fears the US could simply reopen attempts to extradite Mr Assange from Australia if he ever travelled home to the country where he was born and that would leave him again facing charges that carry a maximum penalty of up to 175 years in jail.

Australian officials also confirmed to news.com.au that there was nothing in the US extradition treaty to stop the US from extraditing him as soon as he sets foot in Australia.

The long running legal saga relates to the WikiLeaks founder’s involvement 10 years ago in the 2010 publication of secret diplomatic cables and files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq including a US military video showing an Apache attack helicopter killing civilians.

A British court ruled this week that Mr Assange will not be extradited to the US after a judge found his mental health was so fragile he was likely to kill himself if he is sent overseas to face espionage charges.

But the United States immediately confirmed they will appeal this decision, in a last-ditch attempt to force Mr Assange to face the US justice system.

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Assange’s legal team has rejected claims he could return home to Australia. Picture: Justin TALLIS / AFP

Assange’s legal team has rejected claims he could return home to Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed on Tuesday that the Australian could simply return home “like any other Australian” if that US appeal over the decision overnight fails.

“Well, the justice system is making its way and we’re not a party to that,’’ Mr Morrison said.

“And like any Australian, they’re offered consular support and should, you know, if the appeal fails, obviously he would be able to return to Australia like any other Australian. So that consular support continues to be offered and that’s the situation as we understand it right now.”

But lawyers for Mr Assange told news.com.au that Australia should push for the US to drop the case entirely.

“It is not enough for the Prime Minister to simply say he is free to come home if he wins the appeal,’’ barrister Jennifer Robinson said.

“The Australian government should express concern about Mr Assange’s wellbeing in light of the judge’s findings about his medical condition and support our bail application. The Australian government should also be making representations to the US to close this case down altogether, given the judge’s ruling on his health and the grave freedom of speech implications, to ensure Mr Assange can safely return home.”

The existing judgment is a hollow victory for free speech advocates, with Judge Vanessa Baraitser effectively upholding all of the US arguments that Mr Assange would secure a fair trial in the US.

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PM Scott Morrison insists Assange would simply be free to return to Australia if he wanted to. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

PM Scott Morrison insists Assange would simply be free to return to Australia if he wanted to.

His legal team has also confirmed they are seeking bail so the Australian can be reunited with his young family while that legal appeal is heard.

“We welcome this important decision from the UK court to bar Mr Assange’s extradition to the US and that the judge has agreed with our arguments that his extradition would be oppressive,’’ Ms Robinson told news.com.au.

“However, it is not over yet: the US government has indicated they will appeal. We are now seeking bail for Mr Assange, pending any appeal, so that he can finally be reunited with his young family, have time to recover from this decade-long ordeal and the harsh prison conditions he has faced, and be protected from the COVID outbreak in his prison.”

He will remain at London’s Belmarsh prison until Wednesday, when the application for him to be released on bail until the appeal is heard will be heard.

In September, a British Court heard Assange was preparing to take his own life, in expert evidence provided by a leading psychiatrist.

“He’s made various plans and undergone various preparations,” Professor Michael Kopelman told a UK court, revealing the 49-year-old had confessed his plans to a Catholic priest, written a will and drafted farewell letters to friends and family.

“Various preparations are in place,” the King’s College Emeritus Professor said, adding that Assange’s ideations could be triggered by the “imminence of extradition and or an actual extradition.”

Labor’s legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus said the case should be dropped and had dragged on for long enough.

“Given his ill health it is now time for this long drawn out case against Julian Assange to be brought to an end,’’ he said.

“While the US has the right to appeal the court’s decision, we call on the Morrison Government to do what it can to draw a line under this matter and encourage the US Government to bring this matter to a close.”

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