Biden “considering” request to drop Julian Assange’s indictment

President Joe Biden has said that he is considering a request from the Australian government to drop the decade-long U.S. drive to prosecute Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Assange has been indicted on 17 charges under the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917, plus one charge of computer misuse, as a result of publishing classified U.S. military records and diplomatic cables on the WikiLeaks website almost 15 years ago. These documents exposed war crimes committed by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other matters of public interest. If convicted, Assange faces a sentence of up to 175 years in a U.S. maximum security or supermax prison. 

Since being remanded without criminal conviction in London’s Belmarsh high security prison in April 2019, Assange has spent the last four of these five years fighting extradition to the U.S. in London courts. Prior to his imprisonment, he sought political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in June 2012. He subsequently spent almost seven years holed up in the embassy before being arrested by London’s Metropolitan Police in April 2019 after his asylum status was revoked by Ecuador.1

On 14th February 2024, the Australian parliament overwhelmingly endorsed a motion calling on U.K. and U.S. governments to bring the prosecution of Julian Assange to an end and allow him to return home. The motion was moved by Independent MP, Andrew Wilkie, co-chair of the Bring Julian Assange Home Parliamentary Group, and was backed by Australian Greens and Labor Party MPs, along with a number of other lower house parliamentarians.

On 10th April 2024, when Biden was asked about the Australian government’s request during an official visit by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to Washington DC, he said: “We’re considering it”.

Following Biden’s brief comment, Andrew Wilkie MP stated the following in a media release:

This matter has always been deeply political. Mr Assange is an award-winning Australian journalist who is being punished and pursued by the US for simply doing his job and telling the truth. The man should be lauded as a hero, not rotting away in a cell. It’s time for the US to demonstrate the strong bi-lateral relationship with Australia and drop the prosecution of Mr Assange.2

Refer also to Jennifer Robinson’s interview regarding Biden’s comment in the ABC News video above. Robinson has been a long-standing member of Assange’s legal team.

The prosecution of Assange has been widely denounced by press freedom and human rights advocates and groups, including the Australian Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance and Reporters Without Borders.

At an extradition appeal hearing in London’s High Court on 20th and 21st February 2024, the two judges reserved their decision pending assurances from the U.S. authorities regarding the following matters if Assange were to be extradicted:

  • That the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment relating to free speech would be applicable
  • That Assange would not be disadvantaged during the trial or sentenced because of his nationality
  • That the death penalty would not be applicable should Assange be convicted.

The deadline for U.S. authorities to provide the relevant assurances is Tuesday 16th April 2024. The next High Court hearing relating to these matters is scheduled for 20th May 2024.

1. Esther Addley, ‘The seven-year itch: Assange’s awkward stay in the embassy’, The Guardian, Apr 11, 2019. Also Mattha Busby and Jamie Grierson, ‘Julian Assange: key dates in the WikiLeaks founder’s case’, Feb 20, 2024.
2. Andrew Wilkie, ‘US “considering” dropping Julian Assange charges’, Apr 11, 2024. Also Jano Gibson, ‘Wilkie: Assange Matter Should Come To An End’, The Tasmanian Times, Apr 11, 2024. (Transcript).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *