Prime minister pushed back on idea of US president personally stepping in, but Gabriel Shipton calls prosecution ‘entirely political’
Julian Assange’s brother has urged the Australian government to “up the ante” after the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, confirmed he raised the WikiLeaks founder’s case with Joe Biden last week.
Assange’s brother, Gabriel Shipton, told Guardian Australia: “If his government can get back Cheng Lei from China, why is he so impotent when it comes to Julian and the USA?”
Assange remains in Belmarsh prison in London as he fights a US attempt to extradite him to face charges – including under the Espionage Act. The charges are in connection with the publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cables, in 2010 and 2011.
Speaking on the ABC’s Insiders program, Albanese reiterated his position that “enough is enough – it is time that this issue was brought to a conclusion”.
Albanese said he had “raised the issue of Julian Assange with the administration on all of the occasions in which I’ve met members of the administration”, including with Biden during meetings in Washington DC last week.
But Albanese played down the idea of the US president personally stepping in to order the case be dropped.
“Joe Biden doesn’t interfere with the Department of Justice,” Albanese said. “Joe Biden is a president who understands the separation of the judicial system from the political system. That’s an important principle.
sked whether that meant it was time for Assange to enter into a plea deal, Albanese said Australian officials were “working very hard to achieve an outcome which is consistent with the position that I’ve put”.
Shipton said the US president’s rhetoric about not influencing the Department of Justice (DoJ) was not surprising “given the number of prosecutions against Biden’s main political opponent”, Donald Trump.”
But Shipton said Assange’s prosecution was “unique and a novel use of the law developed during the Trump administration” and was “entirely political”.
“Unwinding it would be a restoration of DoJ independence,” Shipton said.
Shipton noted the government’s recent success in securing the release of Cheng, an Australian journalist after more than three years of detention in China. “It’s time for the prime minister to up the ante,” he said.
Greg Barns SC, adviser to the Assange campaign, said the efforts to reach a breakthrough were not solely focused on Biden but also the attorney general, Merrick Garland. The US House of Representatives and Senate were also a focus of lobbying.skip past newsletter promotion
“It’s not a one-pronged approach,” Barns said.
“When you’ve got an extradition matter, particularly when it’s highly political, you work at a number of levels.
“The president has the power to pardon, including in circumstances where a person hasn’t been tried and convicted, so at the end of the day there are powers that a president can use but there are other powers that an attorney general has.”
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has previously pushed back at the Australian government’s complaints that the pursuit of Assange had dragged on too long.
After talks in Brisbane in July, Blinken said it was “very important” for “our friends” in Australia to understand the US concerns about Assange’s “alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of our country”.
Assange’s supporters argue that it was in the public interest to publish information about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and say his prosecution sets a bad precedent for press freedom.
Last month more than 60 Australian federal politicians explicitly called on the DoJ to drop the prosecution, warning of “a sharp and sustained outcry in Australia” if the WikiLeaks founder was extradited.
A small cross-party delegation then flew to Washington DC in late September to lobby Biden administration officials and US lawmakers in the lead-up to Albanese’s visit.
Daniel Hurst Foreign affairs and defence correspondent