By Dan Oakes – smh.com.au
The former prime minister Malcolm Fraser and dozens of public figures have called on the Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd, to ensure the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is protected from ”rendition” to the US. (The letter can be seen following this article.)
They warn that if Assange is extradited from Britain to Sweden, where he may face rape and sexual assault charges, he could then be handed over to the US, where prosecutors are considering criminal charges against him following the release of confidential cables.
”The chances of Mr Assange receiving a fair trial in the United States appear remote. A number of prominent political figures have called for him to be assassinated, and the Vice-President has called him a ‘high-tech terrorist’,” their open letter reads.
”Given the atmosphere of hostility in relation to Mr Assange, we hold serious concerns about his safety once in US custody. We note that Mr Assange is an Australian citizen, whose journalistic activities were undertaken entirely outside of US territory.”
Assange has been on bail in Britain for almost a year as he fights extradition to Sweden, where two women have alleged he committed sexual offences against them. He has denied the claims, and last week won the right to appeal against the extradition.
The signatories to the letter – who also include the – American academic Noam Chomsky, Julian Burnside, QC, and the Greens leader Bob Brown – warn that Sweden could hand Assange over to the US without the ”appropriate legal processes that accompany normal extradition cases”.
Private Bradley Manning, who leaked the thousands of secret cables, faced the first day of a preliminary hearing on Friday to determine whether he should be court-martialled over the leaks.
Private Manning’s lawyer told the court that the government wanted the 24-year-old soldier to agree to plead guilty in return for a reduced sentence so he could be used as a witness against Assange and WikiLeaks. Lawyers for Assange were in the courtroom during the first day of the pre-trial hearing, and have asked for access to the court for the duration of the proceedings.
The Hon Kevin Rudd
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Parliament House ACT 2600
We write to express our concern about the plight of Julian Assange.
To date, no charges have been laid against Mr Assange by Swedish authorities. Nonetheless, we understand that should he be sent to Sweden, he will be held on remand, incommunicado. We note your comments last year about the need for Mr Assange to receive appropriate consular support. We trust that this consular support is being provided and will continue.
We are concerned that should Mr Assange be placed in Swedish custody, he will be subject to the process of “temporary surrender”, enabling his removal to the United States without the appropriate legal processes that accompany normal extradition cases. We urge you to convey to the Swedish government Australia’s expectation that Mr Assange will be provided with the same rights of appeal and review that any standard extradition request would entail.
Any prosecution of Mr Assange in the United States will be on the basis of his activities as a journalist and editor (Mr Assange’s status as such has been recently confirmed by the High Court in England). Such a prosecution will be a serious assault on freedom of speech and the need for an unfettered, independent media.
Further, the chances of Mr Assange receiving a fair trial in the United States appear remote. A number of prominent political figures have called for him to be assassinated, and the Vice-President has called him a “high-tech terrorist”. Given the atmosphere of hostility in relation to Mr Assange, we hold serious concerns about his safety once in US custody. We note that Mr Assange is an Australian citizen, whose journalistic activities were undertaken entirely outside of US territory.
Mr Assange is entitled to the best endeavours of his government to ensure he is treated fairly. He is entitled to expect that his government will not remain silent while his liberty and safety are placed at risk by a government embarrassed by his journalism. Australians also expect that their government will speak out against efforts to silence the media and intimidate those who wish to hold governments to account.
We ask that you convey clearly to the United States government Australia’s concerns about any effort to manufacture charges against Mr Assange, or to use an unrelated criminal investigation as the basis for what may effectively be rendition. We also urge the government to publicly affirm that Mr Assange is welcome to return to Australia once proceedings against him in Sweden are concluded, and that the government will fully protect his rights as an Australian citizen once here.
We have copied this letter to your colleague, the Attorney-General.
Phillip Adams AO
Adam Bandt MP
Senator Bob Brown
Dr Scott Burchill
Julian Burnside QC
Dr Leslie Cannold
Professor Noam Chomsky
Lieutenant Colonel (ret) Lance Collins, Australian Intelligence Corps
Senator Richard Di Natale
Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser AC CH
Professor Raimond Gaita
David Gilmour and Polly Samson
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young
Professor Sarah Joseph
Professor John Keane
Stephen Keim SC
Professor Theo van Leeuwen
Senator Scott Ludlam
Associate Professor Jake Lynch
Professor Robert Manne
Dr Ken Macnab
Senator Christine Milne
The Hon Alastair Nicholson AO RFD QC
Michael Pearce SC
Senator Lee Rhiannon
Senator Rachel Siewert
Professor Stuart Rees AM
Dr Tad Tietze
Brian Walters SC
Senator Larissa Waters
Tracy Worcester, Marchioness of Worcester
Senator Penny Wright