WikiLeaks: Australia Has 'Obligation' to Protect Julian Assange, Lawyer Says

Julian Assange is “homesick for Australia” and will need to be protected by the Malcolm Turnbull government if he is expelled from the Ecuadorian embassy, his lawyer has said.

Speculation has mounted in recent weeks that Assange’s welcome at the London embassy—where he has lived under political asylum since 2012—is coming to an end. Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, recently confirmed that discussions with British officials were ongoing about the WikiLeaks chief. “I have never been in favor of Mr. Assange’s activity,” Moreno stated.

Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s legal representative in London, told Australian media Wednesday that the situation had become “untenable.” She suggested that Australia should offer aid.

“Julian is still an Australian citizen and they have an obligation—and I think a duty—to exercise rights of protection over an Australian citizen,” Robinson told News.com.au. “They could usefully engage in this to help solve the impasse.” The lawyer said that it was “disappointing” that the Turnbull government had not yet stepped in. “I very much hope that they will,” she stated.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Britain, May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File photo

Robinson added: “I would say he [Julian Assange] is homesick for Australia, he would love to go back, but we have been disappointed by previous governments’ failure to take action.”

The lawyer said the risk of prosecution was “as high as it has ever been.”

The U.K. government previously declined to facilitate access to medical care for Assange. Doctors have said his heath is now worsening due to embassy conditions, including the lack of sunlight. The WikiLeaks founder is wanted for breaching bail conditions six years ago.

Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop said: “The Australian government has provided consular support and will continue to do so as is required.

“We understand there are still matters where Mr. Assange is subject to British legal proceedings so therefore that would be a matter of British law enforcement authorities and agencies.”

Assange has long held the fear that he would be extradited to the U.S. for leaking national security secrets. Over the years he has facilitated the release of information about CIA hacking tools, politicians’ personal emails and diplomatic cables. The intelligence community has alleged that WikiLeaks was weaponized by Russia as part of its 2016 election meddling operation.

Some argue that prosecuting Assange could set a dangerous precedent, noting that mainstream media outlets routinely report on stolen documents and government secrets. 

Julian Burnside, a part of Assange’s legal team, also called on Australia to step in. 

“The main option for Assange is for the Australian government to step in and help him by doing a diplomatic deal with the British, which should not be difficult to do, which would enable him to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy and travel safely back to Australia,” he said. 

Allegations of rape against Assange by Swedish prosecutors were dropped in 2017. According to The Guardian, he was granted Ecuadorian citizenship earlier this year.

But Ecuadorian chancellor José Valencia indicated Assange may not be protected much longer. “It is in the interest of Ecuador and also of Mr. Assange that the asylum ends, but always framed in international law, in dialogue with the United Kingdom,” he has said.

Assange’s internet connection was cut off in March over the voicing of political opinions. His Twitter account then went silent, only to be taken over by campaigners fighting for his cause.

On Sunday, more than 11,000 private messages from a WikiLeaks Twitter group leaked. 

Jennifer Robinson Jennifer Robinson, the lawyer of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, reads a statement to news media outside Ecuador's embassy in London, following Assange's interviews with a Swedish prosecutor in London, Britain November 15, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls