Julian Assange’s family have said the Albanian government needs to intervene in the case before he is extradited to the US, saying it would effectively be a “death sentence” for the WikiLeaks founder if there was no intervention.
The plight of Assange, who is being held in UK’s Belmarsh prison pending an appeal against his extradition to the US, has been raised with the new US ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy, by Assange’s Australian solicitor, Stephen Kenny.
Attending Parliament House on Wednesday, Assange’s father, John Shipton, and brother, Gabriel Shipton, raised concern that there had been little progress made since the May election, and urged the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, to make the issue “non-negotiable” with the US.
The family expressed frustration that they had been unable to secure a meeting with either Albanian, the foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, or the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, despite requests.
Since the election, Albanian has said the government intends to pursue the matter diplomatically, saying “not all foreign affairs is best done with the loudhailer.”
Gabriel said he had initially been encouraged by Albanese’s remarks as opposition leader that “enough is enough” in regards to Assange’s incarceration, but was frustrated with the lack of progress since the election.
“It is months ago now that he said this stuff and made the statement that enough is enough, but when is enough, enough?” he said. Julian’s still in prison. He’s been there for three years and he is not a convicted criminal.
“They could pick up the phone and call Joe Biden and make it a non-negotiable.
“We are strategically vital to the US at the moment, they need our resources, if it was made a non-negotiable, Julian would be here tomorrow.”
Supporters have raised concern about an incoming government brief sent to Dreyfus about the case, which said that “if surrendered, convicted and judgments in the US, Assange could apply under the ITP [international transfer of prisoners] scheme to serve his sentence in Australia’”.
But sources stressed that this document did not indicate a prisoner transfer was the government’s preferred strategy, saying it merely outlined the conditions of such a process.
John Shipton, Assange’s 77-year-old father who has been leading the campaign to bring Assange home to Australia, described the possibility of delaying intervention until Assange was tried and convicted in the US as “grotesque”. He said the process would take many years, and could result in Assange being detained for more than 20 years since the publication of US diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks in 2010.
He said the Americans “stole all his court papers and people say to us ‘put Julian in their hands, he will be safe,’ it is ridiculous, it is grotesque”.
“It is the most feasible way for them to continue to sit on their hands and do nothing,” he said.
Gabriel Shipton pointed to expert witness given testimony to the Westminster magistrates court that said Assange would be at risk of suicide if extradition to the US became imminent.
“That scenario is a death sentence for Julian,” he said.
He urged the Australian government to be more vocal on Assange’s plight, suggesting the case was being treated differently because it involved Australia’s closest ally.
“We’re dealing with this prosecution or persecution that in any normal circumstance would be seen as totally illegal, and if it was Iran doing it to somebody, or China, or Vietnam, the government would be calling them out,” he said.
“It is not just about Julian’s life and his wellbeing, it is a matter of principle, and if Australia wants to be the sort of country that calls out nations on their press freedom record, they could definitely be more vocal.”
The Shiptons said Assange was not in a good physical or mental state, having already suffered a stroke in October, with fears he may suffer another. He is being held in a maximum security cell with limited phone and visiting rights, in what his wife, Stella Moris, has described as “atrocious” conditions.
The US has given assurances that if extradited, Assange would not be subject to “special administrative measures” or held at a maximum security facility, which the UK high court ruling described as “solemn undertakings offered by one government to another”.
But advocates remain concerned that Assange will not be given a fair trial for the 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse he faces, which carry a potential combined prison sentence of up to 175 years.