Penny Wong’s comments dampen expectation of Assange’s release

London: Foreign Minister Penny Wong says the rule of law must be applied to Julian Assange, dampening hopes that her government is about to secure the WikiLeaks founder’s freedom.

Assange is being held in Britain’s Belmarsh Prison where he is appealing his extradition to the United States to face charges related to the theft of hundreds of thousands of secret cables from the US government which WikiLeaks published in full, more than a decade ago.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong at the Australian High Commission in London on Tuesday, 31 January, 2023.Credit:Latika Bourke

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he had raised the matter with the United States and British governments raising hopes among Assange’s supporters that the Australian could walk free from jail without being extradited to the United States to face trial.

But asked about the matter during a news conference in London on Wednesday morning (AEDT), Wong said it was “not a decision for the Australian government” and pointed to the legal processes underway.

“We believe that this matter has dragged on too long, and we continue to raise it at the appropriate levels with both the US and the UK governments,” she said.

“You would be familiar with the very many legal processes with which Mr Assange is involved, and you would also know that in all three countries being discussed the rule of law applies,” the minister said.

Albanese has previously said that he sees no constructive purpose in Assange’s ongoing incarceration and that the issue should be “brought to a close.”

“I have raised the issue with the US administration and raised the issue on behalf of Australia,” he said in December.

“I do not see what constructive purpose is served from the ongoing incarceration of Julian Assange.

“I do believe that enough is enough and that this issue should be brought to a close.”

Assange is appealing the British courts’ ruling that he be extradited to the US, arguing that he is the victim of a political prosecution.

The 51-year-old married his wife Stella in a ceremony inside Belmarsh Prison last year and secretly fathered two sons with her during his time holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He spent seven years in the embassy evading a separate extradition order to Sweden where was wanted to face questions relating to sexual assault allegations.

He was evicted by the Ecuadorians in 2019 leading to his arrest and imprisonment ever since. He has repeatedly been denied bail with judges deeming him a flight risk, pointing to his past evasion of the Swedish extradition order.

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