News National Australia’s response to Assange case as China attacks US and Britain
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Australia’s response to Assange case as China attacks US and Britain

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The Australian government has offered few words about Julian Assange in the five days since Britain approved his extradition to the US.

So the fact the strongest statements are coming from China is raising frustrations among the Australian’s supporters.

Notwithstanding that authoritarian Beijing has motivation to deflect attention to other cases of possible human rights abuses and attacks on a free press, the comments further amplify the (comparative) crickets on Canberran soil.

Wang Wenbin, spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry said at a press conference the case reflected the “hypocrisy of the US and the UK on press freedom”.

“The US and Britain are cooperating in the cross-border repression of specific individuals,” Mr Wang said.

He continued: “People are free to expose other countries but subject to severe punishment if they expose the US.

“While it is political persecution for other countries to hold the press accountable, it is legal for themselves to suppress the press.

“The world is paying close attention to Assange’s human rights and personal fate … we believe that fairness and justice will prevail, and that hegemony and abuse of might will not last forever.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has stopped short of publicly demanding the US drop its prosecution of the WikiLeaks founder, who was instrumental in exposing alleged American war crimes.

But he did say he would “stand by” comments he made last year.

In December, he told ABC radio in Tasmania: “I do not see what purpose is served by the ongoing pursuit of Mr Assange. He is an Australian citizen as well. And with that should come an obligation of the Australian government to ensure that he receives appropriate support.”

On Monday, Mr Albanese said: “There are some people who think that if you put things in capital letters on Twitter and put an exclamation mark, that somehow makes it more important. It doesn’t.

“I intend to lead a government that engages diplomatically and appropriately with our partners.”

Reading between the lines, the federal government is worried about making too much noise about the case while diplomats negotiate behind closed doors with the nation’s most important security ally.

Hinting at more optimism since Labor took office, Mr Assange’s wife Stella Morris said she had felt a “shift” in the way the federal government was handling her husband’s case.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles said Mr Assange’s plight was being taken “very seriously” and consular support would continue to be provided.

“It was last year that Anthony Albanese … made clear that enough was enough for Julian Assange and the treatment that he had been subjected to,” he told ABC radio on Monday.

“That was true, then it’s even more true now.”

Mr Giles said there was no better person to advocate for Mr Assange than the new Foreign Minister, Penny Wong.

Greens leader Adam Bandt said he was concerned the Albanese government was “soft pedalling” on working to bring Mr Assange back to Australia.

“I’m very much hopeful that the government will act on the noises that they made in opposition and do what they’ve said that they would do, which is take advantage of the special relationship that we supposedly have with the United States and of course with the United Kingdom as well,” he told ABC radio.

Mr Assange’s brother, Gabriel Shipton, has urged Mr Albanese to publicly advocate for his brother.

“Be clear what the Australian people are asking you to do, which is to bring Julian home,” Mr Shipton said.

“It puts them in a position where they have to say no to a strategic ally. I don’t really see the Biden Administration turning around and saying no to one of its most strategic allies at this time.”

Mr Assange’s legal team has 10 days left to fight Britain’s decision to approve his extradition.

-with agencies