Stella Assange has said the life of her husband, Julian Assange, is “in the hands of the Australian government” as she pleaded for Canberra to do more to influence the US to stop the pursuit of the WikiLeaks founder.
For more than 1,500 days Julian Assange has been waiting behind bars in London under threat of extradition to the US, where he faces a 175-year sentence on espionage charges for leaking classified military documents.
“If Julian is extradited, he will be buried in the deepest, darkest hole of the US prison system, isolated forever,” Stella Assange said in an emotional address to the National Press Club in Canberra on Monday.
“We must do everything we can to ensure that Julian never, ever sets foot in US prison. Extradition in this case is a matter of life and death.”
Stella Assange had also come to Australia to advocate for her husband’s release in the presence of the US president, Joe Biden, who was scheduled to be in Sydney for Quad talks before pulling out.
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But Biden’s absence did not deter her from coming to the country of her husband’s birth because she believes Australia has a crucial role to play in securing his release.
“Australia is the United States’ most important ally,” she said. “Julian’s life is in the hands of the Australian government.”
Julian Assange’s Australian supporters are hopeful that the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, will continue to plead his case after meeting Biden at G7 talks in Japan at the weekend.
Support in Australia is growing, with Albanese and the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, agreeing that Assange has been incarcerated for too long.
“Nothing is served on the ongoing incarceration of Julian Assange,” Albanese told parliament on Monday.
The treatment of Julian Assange, his wife argues, has emboldened authoritarian regimes to clamp down on press freedoms around the world.
“The case against Julian cannot be understood as anything other than an absurdity,” she said. “A stupefying decision of egregious overreach.
“America’s case against Julian has created a new race to the bottom – a new normal, which makes it easier to get away with imprisoning journalists.”
As their young children grow older and come to realise their father’s plight, Stella Assange feels increasing urgency to secure her husband’s freedom.
Jennifer Robinson, an Australian human rights lawyer on Julian Assange’s legal team, did not rule out attempting to strike a plea deal with US prosecutors to seal his release, potentially on time served.
But she insists that Assange has committed no crime.
Robinson welcomed a comparison to the case of terrorism-accused David Hicks, who was returned to Australia as part of a political settlement after his defence struck a plea bargain.