Australia’s deputy prime minister has come to the defence of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, calling on the UK not to extradite the Australian citizen to the US.
Barnaby Joyce, one of the Australian government’s most senior ministers, said Mr Assange should be kept in Britain and tried there or returned to home nation.
The 50-year-old is facing extradition to the US over espionage charges relating to the publication of classified military information in 2010 and 2011 by WikiLeaks.
Mr Joyce, who caught coronavirus during a visit to the UK earlier this month, said Mr Assange did not steal the secret US files and was also not in the US at the time of their publication by WikiLeaks.
The New England MP added that Mr Assange was not in breach of any Australian laws at the time of his actions.
“As an individual, whether you like him or despise him, it is beyond him, given his circumstances, to protect his rights by himself. So we must hope for the British courts to do so, and we will judge its society accordingly,” Mr Joyce wrote in an editorial published in Australia’s Nine Newspapers.
“I have never met him and, from observation, don’t respect him. I presume I would not like him.
— Stella Assange #FreeAssangeNOW (@StellaMoris1) December 11, 2021
“To look at it clearly, you must leave your uninformed preconceptions at the door of the high-colour sideshow. You must also set aside the grave issues that surround the actions of [Mr] Assange.
“They are a separate matter to the key issue: where was this individual when he was allegedly breaking US law for which the US is now seeking his extradition from London?”
Mr Assange has spent the past two years in Belmarsh Prison in London after almost a decade hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in the capital.
The WikiLeaks founder is currently facing a renewed push for his extradition to the US after the High Court last week overturned a previous ruling against such a move.
His fiancée on the weekend accused UK authorities of playing the role of “executioner” after Mr Assange suffered a mini stroke in prison.