Image Credit: PEN International
Prime Minister the Hon. Scott Morrison MP
Senator the Hon. Marise Payne
The Hon Anthony Albanese, MP
Senator the Hon. Penny Wong
12 December, 2021
Regarding Mr Julian Assange
Dear Prime Minister, Ministers and Shadow Ministers,
PEN International is a global NGO dedicated to the release of unjustly imprisoned writers. PEN Melbourne and PEN Sydney are deeply concerned for the welfare of Australian citizen Julian Assange.
The recent decision of the UK High Court to clear the way for Wikileaks founder and publisher Julian Assange to be extradited to the USA is a shocking blow to media freedom, with far reaching implications for investigative journalism worldwide. The Supreme Court must review the decision and block the politically-driven extradition of Assange. In the meantime, PEN continues to call for the dropping of the charges against Assange, and demand that espionage laws not be used against journalists and publishers for disclosing information of public interest.
The UK’s High Court decision upholds the appeal of the US government and overturns the decision of the Westminster Magistrate Court to deny extradition on medical grounds, on the basis of Assange’s poor mental health.
Julian Assange has been held since April 2019 in the UK’s Belmarsh High Security Prison for breaching the UK Bail Act. In May 2019, Assange was indicted by the US Justice Department on 17 counts of violating the US Espionage Act for his role in obtaining and publishing classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010. UN experts, free expression groups and scores of human rights lawyers have made it clear that this prosecution raises profound concerns about freedom of the press under the First Amendment to the US Constitution and sends a dangerous signal to journalists and publishers worldwide. US prosecutors had already charged Assange with one hacking-related count, which also includes a list of actions that fall under journalistic activities. In June 2019, the United Kingdom’s home secretary signed a US extradition order for Assange. If convicted on all charges, he faces a total of 175 years. On 24 June 2020, the US Department of Justice issued a second superseding indictment against Assange, adding no new charges but expanding on the charge for conspiracy to commit computer intrusions.
Australian PEN centres call on you, as the representatives of the Australian people, to stand up for the rights of Julian Assange, a citizen who has already paid a great price for publishing challenging and tough matters which are in the public’s right to know. Prison is killing Julian Assange, his mental and physical health is failing. We urge you to use your considerable diplomatic influence with your counterparts in the UK government to prevent Mr Assange’s extradition to the US where it appears certain he will face a long incarceration.
We look forward to your response and action for Mr Assange at the soonest opportunity.
Christine McKenzie, President, PEN Melbourne
Zoe Rodriguez, President, PEN Sydney
PEN Sydney Centre
c/- FASS, UTS
PO Box 123
Broadway NSW 2007
International PEN Melbourne Centre
176 Little Lonsdale Street