Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser and dozens of other public figures have called on Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd to make sure WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is protected from ”rendition” to the United States.
Signatories including Prof Noam Chomsky, the academic, and film director Ken Loach said that once in Sweden Mr Assange could be handed over to America without the “appropriate legal processes that accompany normal extradition cases.”
In an open letter, they warn that if Assange is extradited from Britain to Sweden – where he may face rape and sexual assault charges – he could then be handed over to the US, where prosecutors are considering criminal charges against him over the release of confidential cables.
”The chances of Mr Assange receiving a fair trial in the United States appear remote. A number of prominent political figures have called for him to be assassinated, and the Vice-President has called him a ‘high-tech terrorist’,” the letter reads.
The WikiLeaks founder was this month given permission by the Supreme Court to appeal against his extradition to Sweden where he could face rape and sexual assault charges.
But his supporters claim that sending him to Sweden would place him under “temporary surrender”, putting him at threat of a fast-track extradition to the US, where prosecutors are considering charging him over the release of confidential documents.
”Given the atmosphere of hostility in relation to Mr Assange, we hold serious concerns about his safety once in US custody. We note that Mr Assange is an Australian citizen, whose journalistic activities were undertaken entirely outside of US territory.”
Assange has been on bail in Britain for almost a year as he fights extradition to Sweden, where two women have alleged that he committed sexual offences against them. The WikiLeaks founder has denied the claims, and last week won the right to appeal against the extradition.
“A number of prominent political figures have called for him to be assassinated, and Joe Biden, the Vice-President, has called him a ‘high-tech terrorist’. Given this atmosphere of hostility, we hold serious concerns about his safety once in American custody,” the letter says.
The signatories to the letter – including American academic Noam Chomsky, Julian Burnside, QC, Greens leader Bob Brown and former Family Court chief judge Alastair Nicholson – warn that Sweden could hand Assange over to the US without the ”appropriate legal processes that accompany normal extradition cases”.
”We urge you to convey to the Swedish government Australia’s expectation that Mr Assange will be provided with the same rights of appeal and review that any standard extradition request would entail,” the letter says.
”Any prosecution of Mr Assange in the United States will be on the basis of his activities as a journalist and editor (Mr Assange’s status as such has been recently confirmed by the High Court in England). Such a prosecution will be a serious assault on freedom of speech and the need for an unfettered, independent media.”
The signatories said they were not commenting on the sexual assault allegations against Assange, which they agreed were serious and should be investigated.
The WikiLeaks website recently won a Walkley Award for the most outstanding contribution to journalism, while the soldier accused of leaking the hundreds of thousands of secret cables, Bradley Manning, faced his first day in court last week. [via The Telegraph, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age]