Letter to Senate crossbenchers in relation to Julian Assange

Dear Senator

Today marks 1500 days since Julian Assange, an Australian citizen, has been detained in the United Kingdom without charge.

The concerns surrounding  Mr Assange’s case are well known but rarely reported on either accurately or in detail in mainstream media.  For an accurate background you may care to review the following:

  • Brief to Canberra’ by Jennifer Robinson, Human Rights Lawyer, dated 4 March 2011;
  • Letter from Gareth Peirce, Human Rights Lawyer, to The Hon Kevin Rudd dated 15 September 2011;
  • Affidavit of Julian Paul Assange; and
  • Article by John Pilger ‘The siege of Julian Assange is a farce – a special investigation’ dated 16 November 2014.

Unfolding circumstances in the case of Mr Peter Greste, another Australian citizen and journalist, and the aftermath of the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, reminds us all of the importance of, and need for the protection of, journalists, free speech and freedom of the press.

The comparison is not gratuitous: you may be aware that WikiLeaks won the Walkley Award for contribution to journalism in 2011 and the Amnesty International UK Media Award (New Media) in 2009, and in a personal capacity Mr Assange was also awarded the Martha Gellhorn prize for journalism in 2011.  Yet the Australian Government – both current and former – have offered no tangible assistance to Mr Assange notwithstanding protestations that the “cornerstone of progress is free speech” and that “freedom of expression… is the lifeblood of free societies”.

Even more disturbing is the 2013 revelation by the former Foreign Minister Bob Carr that the government would make no more representations to the US on Assange’s circumstances because his case “doesn’t affect Australian interests”. There is no evidence to suggest that the current government – self-proclaimed champions of free speech – is willing to take a different position.

Please do not be distracted by the array of reputational attacks – including that he is everything from a rapist, megalomaniac and a traitor – that have been made on Mr Assange. The claims are entirely irrelevant and have no bearing on his fundamental human rights or the right to the presumption of innocence.  Indeed Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

And please also bear in mind – despite repeated unsupported assertions to the contrary – that former security and intelligence officers have said that the WikiLeaks’ disclosures in 2010 and 2011 were embarrassing to the government but that ”no great harm was done”, and that the Pentagon’s special assessment team looking over the WikiLeaks Afghanistan war logs found nothing that could damage national security.

History illustrates the important role the Senate, and you as a Senator, can play in situations like this. The 1970s great bottom of the harbour tax avoidance scandal is one clear example of an issue where the Senate used everything at its disposal to move the government of the day to act.  If all rights that citizens have flow from freedom of thought and speech – as the global response to the tragedy in France confirms  – it is hard to think of a more important issue for which the Senate should again go to the barricades than the plight of Mr Assange.

Would you please indicate your position in relation to Mr Assange’s case and confirm whether you would be prepared to either move a motion to refer his case to a committee and/or to raise Questions on Notice in the chamber in relation to his case.

Yours faithfully

Kellie Tranter

Lawyer & human rights activist


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