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Australian parliament wants WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange back home, not sent to US

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Thursday he hoped for an amicable end to the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after lawmakers ramped up pressure on the United States and Britain by passing a motion calling for the Australian citizen to be allowed to return to his home country.

Albanese told Parliament the days before Britain’s High Court of Justice hears Assange’s appeal next week against extradition to the United States on espionage charges were a “critical period.”

“I hope this can be resolved. I hope it can be resolved amicably. It’s not up to Australia to interfere in the legal processes of other countries, but it is appropriate for us to put our very strong view that those countries need to take into account the need for this to be concluded,” Albanese said.

“Regardless of where people stand, this thing cannot just go on and on and on indefinitely,” Albanese added.

Albanese congratulated independent lawmaker Andrew Wilkie for moving a motion in support of Assange in the House of Representatives on Wednesday ahead of the appeal.

Albanese was among the 86 lawmakers who voted for the motion that called on the United States and Britain to bring the “matter to a close so that Mr. Assange can return home to his family in Australia.”

The motion was opposed by 42 lawmakers including most of the main opposition party that unsuccessfully proposed amendments.

Leaders of both the government and the opposition have publicly stated that the United States’ pursuit of the 52-year-old had dragged on for too long.

Assange has been in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison since he was arrested in 2019 for skipping bail during a separate legal battle. Before that, he spent seven years inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault. Sweden dropped the rape investigation in 2019 because so much time had elapsed.

Assange’s brother Gabriel Shipton on Thursday welcomed the lawmakers’ vote, adding that his notorious sibling could potentially be extradited to the United States next week.

“That means all the ties to his family, his lifeline that are keeping him alive inside that prison will be cut off and he’ll be lost into a horrific prison system in the United States,” Shipton told reporters at Parliament House.

“This show of support from the Parliament is at a crucial time and now gives the government a real mandate to advocate very, very strongly for a political solution to bring Julian Assange home,” Shipton added.

Wilkie, who authored the motion, argues the extradition should be dropped.

But the Albanese government’s language has been more circumspect. Australia’s repeated calls for the charges to be “brought to a conclusion” leave open the possibility of a plea deal that could require Assange spend no more time in custody.

Assange’s plight is seen as a test of Albanese’s leverage with the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken pushed back against Albanese’s position during a visit to Australia last year, saying Assange was accused of “very serious criminal conduct” in publishing a trove of classified U.S. documents more than a decade ago.

Senior opposition lawmaker Dan Tehan said the motion did not reflect his party’s wish that the prosecution progress more quickly.

“It was about criticizing the Americans for standing up for their right to be able to deal with the implications of people leaking national security issues and we have to get this right,” Tehan told reporters Thursday.

“What Julian Assange is accused of is leaking national security secrets. Now no one should condone that. What we do want to see though … is that justice can prevail in a quick time, that he can be heard in court and that the length of time that it’s taken to prosecute this isn’t so long,” Tehan added.

Assange faces 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic and military documents more than a decade ago. American prosecutors allege he helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published, putting lives at risk.

Australia argues there is a disconnect between the U.S. treatment of Assange and Manning. Then-U.S. President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s 35-year sentence to seven years, which allowed her release in 2017.

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