AUSTRALIANS ABROAD DUMPED BY GOVERNMENT
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As the sixth anniversary of his extended stay in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London approaches, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange is faced with increasingly limited options. Barred from communicating with the outside world and from receiving most visitors, Assange’s only hope of avoiding extradition to the United States on trumped-up espionage charges comes down to the governments of the two countries of which he is a citizen: Australia and Ecuador.
In an unexpected move last week, the Australian government sent officials to meet with Assange and later confirmed that Australia would finally extend consular assistance to the Australian-born journalist after years of failing to do so and even threatening to revoke his Australian passport. The Australian government, in the past, has attempted to argue that it can do little to help Assange’s situation, asserting that it was “unable to intervene in the due process of another country’s court proceedings or legal matters.”
It has also failed to publicly comment on the UN finding that Assange has been subjected to arbitrary detention by the United Kingdom.
Given the fact that Sweden has dropped all legal proceedings against him Australia is coming under unprecedented pressure to act. And the political pressure the Australian government is facing involves the broader implications the Assange case holds for Australian citizens as a collective, not just for Assange as an individual.
The issue at stake for the Australian government is its commitment to the protection of the human rights of its citizens, including internationally recognized legal and democratic norms such as free speech, the right of due process, freedom from cruel and degrading treatment, and the right not to be punished in the absence of a criminal act.”
Assange’s detention in the embassy has been carried out in the complete absence of criminal charges, as the only remaining legal justification for his arrest by the U.K. government is his breach of bail.
However, normally, a breach of bail would not lead to incarceration in the U.K., as the primary punishment for such infractions is the payment of a bail bond, which was forfeited in Assange’s case. Thus, the only reasonable conclusion regarding the U.K.’s intention to detain Assange if he leaves the embassy is that it is to extradite him to the United States, the very basis for his protected status.
Thus, if Australia reneges on its obligations to protect Assange and fight for his rights, the implications such actions would hold for every other citizen of the country are as vast as they are chilling.
It would set the legal precedent for Australia to allow any of its citizens to be detained, imprisoned and/or silenced by another government without charges, greatly weakening the rights of any Australian national living or traveling abroad. Essentially, it would mean that many of the rights granted to an Australian by right of one’s citizenship would evaporate the second he or she set foot on foreign soil.
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