SYDNEY — Australia’s prime minister said Monday he will engage “diplomatically” over the US prosecution of Aussie activist Julian Assange, but he is standing by earlier remarks questioning the purpose of further legal action.
As domestic pressure mounted on him to intervene in the WikiLeaks founder’s case, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he is sticking to comments he made while in opposition last year that “enough is enough”.
“I do not see what purpose is served by the ongoing pursuit of Mr. Assange,” Albanese said at the time.
But the Australian leader took a swipe at “people who think that if you put things in capital letters on Twitter and put an exclamation mark, then that somehow makes it more important”.
Instead, he said: “I intend to lead a government that engages diplomatically and appropriately with our partners.”
Assange’s wife Stella Assange told ABC radio Monday that she understood the Albanese government was raising her husband’s case with US President Joe Biden’s administration.
“That is extremely welcome news,” she said, adding that she had not been able to see Assange since a British court last week cleared the path for his extradition to the United States.
“When I heard the news, I just wanted to give him a hug,” she said.
Assange’s long-running legal saga began in 2010 after WikiLeaks published more than 500,000 classified US documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He has been held on remand at a top-security jail in southeast London since 2019 for jumping bail in a previous case accusing him of sexual assault in Sweden.
That case was dropped but he was not released on grounds he was a flight risk in the US extradition case.
As Assange’s potential US extradition looms, several high-profile Australians, including former foreign minister Bob Carr, have called on Albanese to demand the US drop the prosecution.
“If Albanese asks, my guess is America will agree,” Carr wrote Monday in an op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Carr argued Assange’s prosecution stood in sharp contrast to the US pardoning former military intelligence officer Chelsea Manning, who had leaked the secret files to WikiLeaks.
“Our new prime minister can say: ‘We’re not fans of the guy either, Mr. President, but it’s gone on long enough. We’re good allies. Let this one drop’.”
While campaigning for May elections that swept his Labor Party to power, Albanese said that Assange had “paid a big price for the publication of that information already”.
Carr was serving as foreign minister in 2012 when Assange, who was facing sexual assault allegations, sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
For much of the past decade, Australia’s previous conservative government did not publicly advocate for Assange’s release.