Don’t judge Julian Assange for taking US plea deal, says Australian MP

Don’t judge Julian Assange for taking US plea deal, says Australian MP

Australia is looking forward to welcoming Julian Assange “home” after his 14-year legal ordeal, prime minister Anthony Albanese has said, as the Wikileaks founder reached a plea deal with US prosecutors.

Mr Assange walked out of Belmarsh prison on Monday and boarded a flight from Stansted Airport at 5pm, ahead of an appearance later this week in the federal court in the Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth in the Western Pacific.

Labour Party MP Julian Hill said Australia-born Assange’s “health is fragile” and he should not be judged for accepting a guilty plea deal with the US Justice Department in order to return home.

“No one should judge Julian for accepting a deal to get the hell out of there and come home. His health is fragile,” Mr Hill said. “Whatever you think of Assange he is an Australian and enough is enough.”

Adressing a question in parliament, Mr Albanese on Tuesday said “the case has dragged on for too long, there is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia”.

“We have engaged and advocated Australia’s interest using all appropriate channels to support a positive outcome and I have done that since very early on in my prime ministership,” he said.

Australia has reacted cautiously to the news that Mr Assange’s legal saga may be over, while Mr Albanese indicated that he had been working through diplomatic channels to seek a resolution.

Mr Hill said the prime minister “deserves enormous personal credit for his judgment and determination, never giving up in pursuing resolution of this case”.

An Australian government spokesperson released a short statement on Tuesday, saying they are “aware Australian citizen Mr Julian Assange has legal proceedings scheduled in the United States”.

“Given those proceedings are ongoing, it is not appropriate to provide further comment,” the spokesperson said.

“The Australian government continues to provide consular assistance to Mr Assange.

“Prime Minister Albanese has been clear: Mr Assange’s case has dragged on for too long and there is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration.”

Simon Birmingham, the shadow foreign minister, said: “We welcome the fact that Mr Assange’s decision to plead guilty will bring this long running saga to an end.”

There have been increasing calls from Australian lawmakers and public figures urging the Australian government to step up efforts to bring Mr Assange back to Australia.

In 2021 and 2022, the Australian Parliament saw motions and debates regarding Mr Assange’s situation, with some politicians proposing that the government seek to negotiate his return to Australia.

Before he became prime minister, Mr Albanese signed a letter in 2019, along with other MPs, addressed to the then UK home secretary, urging the British government to block Mr Assange’s extradition to the United States.

Assange is due to be sentenced to 62 months of time in prison which he has already served. The hearing will take place in Saipan at 9am local time on Wednesday (2300 GMT Tuesday).

Saipan is a self-governing US territory, located in the western Pacific, about 2400km (1,500 miles) east of the Philippines.

It was chosen following Assange’s opposition to travelling to the US mainland and its proximity to Australia, prosecutors said.

“Julian is free!!!!” his wife, Stella Assange, said in a post on X.

“Words cannot express our immense gratitude to YOU - yes YOU, who have all mobilised for years and years to make this come true.”