Time for a government rethink on Julian Assange


This article is by Charis Palmer, news editor at The Conversation. It was first published on The Conversation and is re-published here with permission.

news The granting of political asylum by the Ecuadorian government to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange puts pressure back on the Australian government to act, says leading QC and human rights advocate, Julian Burnside. The move comes two months after Mr Assange took refuge in the country’s London-based embassy. He is wanted for questioning by Swedish prosecutors over two sexual assault complaints.

Julian Burnside said the fact that Ecuador had granted Julian Assange asylum lent real credence to Mr Assange’s concerns about being extradited to the US. “Australia needs to stop being complacent, stop brushing it aside and have another look. Then they might do something constructive to help him,” Mr Burnside said.

He added that both Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Foreign Minister Bob Carr have ducked questions over whether they have asked America what its plans for Mr Assange are. “To anyone accustomed to cross-examination that would arouse suspicion,” Mr Burnside said. He said the next step is for the British to invite Swedish prosecutors to London to question Mr Assange on the sexual assault complaints.

“It’s not like he’s a convicted escaped criminal, he’s someone the Swedes want to ask questions of,” Mr Burnside said. “The British have a number of courses available to them. They could invite Swedish prosecutors to England to ask the questions. If that’s what really is at the heart of it then that’s what the British would be well advised to do.”

It’s difficult to think of any acceptable reason why they wouldn’t do that, Mr Burnside said.

Ecuadorian ministers have accused the British of threatening to storm the embassy in order to seize Mr Assange, in a move that could set a dangerous precedent. “To remove the accreditation of the embassy in order to be able to arrest him to send him over so the Swedes can ask him questions is bizarre beyond imagination,” Mr Burnside said.

Suelette Dreyfus, research fellow at the University of Melbourne, and author of a book on hacking that was researched by Julian Assange, agreed such a move would be “astonishing”. “The idea of throwing out a set of international treaties to storm the soil of another country to abduct someone, which I think is being put forward as an option by the British government is astonishing, breathtaking really, with very little precedent,” Dr Dreyfus said.

There is strong precedent, however, on whistleblowers being forced to face retribution in a case of what Dr Dreyfus said was “shooting the messenger”. Dr Dreyfus is currently researching whistleblowing, conducting what she said is the first online general population survey testing public attitudes to whistleblowing to be run in ten languages.

“The question is, are you shooting the messenger with a gun or a nuclear weapon?” Dr Dreyfus said. “Typically what happens with whistleblowing in organisations, is people attack the whistleblower, there will be retributions, but after the dust has settled the organisation is forced to address the issue.

“It makes more sense to just go straight to that point and just address the issue rather than shooting the messenger,” Dr Dreyfus said. “I tend to think Assange is being more of a publisher who publishes information that may have been given to him anonymously by people who are whistleblowing. “There he should be afforded all the rights of freedom to publish that other publishers are afforded.”

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article. Image credit: Surian Soosay, Creative Commons

The Conversation


  1. It’s not the Government’s job to bail out a traitorous [censored by Renai]. All Assange has to do to clear his name is step out of the embassy and be questioned by the Swedish police. That’s it. He needs to grow up, stop being a coward and face the consequences of his actions, not hide behind an illegitimate asylum claim from a Government far worse at human rights, [censored] than any of the governments he has spied on.

    • “It’s not the Government’s job to bail out a traitorous [censored by Renai]. All Assange has to do to clear his name is step out of the embassy and be questioned by the Swedish police.”

      Rape and sexual assault = treasonous? Interesting. Explain how.

      “He needs to grow up”

      That’s what I just love about the Assange debate (no, really) that it has provoked such misplaced hostile reactions like yours, yes how dare he expose the war crimes of another country. What are you really angry about bob? Tell us. Is it that he shattered your dreams because you enjoy living in denial or are you really angry at yourself because now that wikileaks has exposed all of this you dont actually have the guts to stand up to your government for practically endorsing Americas actions.

    • Hi Renai – a large part of that particular article, his ‘legal’ conclusions, have been heavily brought into question if not outright debunked. Look at the end of the Greenwald article I referenced for more detail.

  2. I don’t exactly agree with Burnside, but I do think the most fair solution would be for the swedes to interview Assange in London.
    I think the Australian government should lobby both Sweden and the UK to facilitate this.

    • And if the Swedes then want to put him on trial what happens?

      I thought he had a lawful warrant served extraditing him to Sweden. If thats the case would anyone else without his notoriety not be sent to Sweden forthwith!

      I presume by resisting that action Assange is saying that he is innocent. I haven’t heard him state that he is innocent – but maybe I missed it.

      Its all a bit weird, especially as I would imagine British extradition to the USA would be easier than in Sweden

      • If they want to put him on trial then he has to go face justice.
        I get that he’s in a sticky situation, but the fact is Sweden IS a civilised country, in a European democratic context. Actually more democratic, with a much better record on freedom of speech than Equador (and Russia).

      • Innocent of what? He hasn’t been charged. He made himself available to the Swedish authorities, but they weren’t interested, and let him leave Sweden. Then, suddenly, they want to extradite him! Sensors indicate the stench of political interference.

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