A delegation of Australian lawmakers will visit Washington later this month to lobby for the freedom of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who faces up to 175 years in prison if extradited to the US and convicted for exposing US war crimes.
Six members of the Australian parliament from across the political spectrum will make the trip, including former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.
“We span the hard left to the hard right. Besides the weather and Julian Assange we probably don’t all agree on anything,” Joyce said, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
“Both Labor and the Coalition think this matter has gone far enough. What is to be gained by this going any further? If the Justice Department is seeking a sense of retribution, that’s already been achieved by the amount of time Assange has been in jail,” he added.
The delegation will visit Washington on September 20-21 and plans to meet with both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. The idea is to draw attention to the issue before Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s scheduled trip to the US capital at the end of October.
The Australian government has stepped up the pressure on the US in recent months to drop the case against Assange, who has been held without charges in London’s Belmarsh Prison as the US has been trying to extradite him.
The issue was raised with Secretary of State Antony Blinken when he visited Australia in July, but he rejected the Australian concerns. However, a few weeks later, US Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy hinted at a possible plea deal for Assange that could keep him from ending up in an American prison, where his family and legal team fears he would die.
Assange faces charges in the US under the Espionage Act for obtaining classified documents from a source, a standard journalistic practice. If Assange is extradited and convicted, it would have grave implications for press freedom inside the US and around the world. A plea deal would also set a dangerous precedent as it would still criminalize the relationship between a journalist and a source.