2012-06-06 Letter to Prime Minister Gillard on Julian Assange from the Newcastle Trades Hall Council

The Hon Julia Gillard MP
Prime Minister
Parliament House
CANBERRA ACT 2600 4 June 2012

Dear Prime Minister


Regrettably we feel compelled to write to you about the plight of Mr Assange.

You will know that many Australians are angry, disappointed and even confused about your government's response to Mr Assange's situation. They feel that way because they care: they care about civil liberties, they care about freedom of speech, they care about truth and they care about democracy.

Many people fear that Mr Assange's greatest enemy may not be the United States or Sweden but rather the indifference demonstrated by his own Government, our Government.

Many are wondering why your only contribution to the debate has been initial accusations of illegal conduct followed by muted silence. Why?

As you know, there is currently a 14 day stay on the UK Supreme Court judgment but it is very likely that Mr Assange, an online publisher and journalist, will be extradited to Sweden. We think that the letter from Mr Assange's lawyer , Gareth Peirce, to the then Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd dated 25 October 2011; the detailed brief provided to several members of the Australian Parliament by Finers Stephens Innocent in March 2011; the recent article by the Australian Centre of Independent Journalism; and the Fair Trials International note which explains what will happen to Mr Assange once he is taken to Sweden, highlight the reasons for our Government to be concerned.

The Government has said that it has and will continue to provide the same consular assistance offered to any Australian caught up in a legal matter overseas. That ignores the facts (raised by Mr Tony Kevin, now retired from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) that not only is this not a standard consular issue, but that "David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib received similarly worthless consular access from Howard and Ruddock at the times they were rendered with Australian Government consent to years of torture in Guantanamo. Both men were being abusively treated in Pakistan and Egypt while on their way to Guantanamo, as Australian consular officers looked on impotently."

Foreign Affairs Minister Carr asserts that no Australian has received more consular support in a comparable period than Mr Assange. You need only refer the Government to assistance provided to one Mr Thompson (just one week after he was detained in Baghdad, in May 2006, with a cache of arms) to see that the assertion is wrong. It is perhaps also worth mentioning the assistance provided to those caught up in drug cases in Bali.

We understand that Mr Assange asked for assistance from the Ambassador while in Sweden, which wasn't forthcoming, and that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade later denied that any request had been made. In any case, no consular assistance was offered while he was in Sweden.

The Senate Official Committee Hansard report of February 24, 2011 shows that Mr Assange was provided with a copy of the Consular Services Charter on December 7, 2010. Of how much use was that?

In November 2011 Mr Assange's lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, confirmed that the Australian Ambassador in Sweden had agreed to convey questions from Mr Assange's defence team to the Swedish prosecutor’s office, but said they offered little more. She pointed out that "correspondence was limited to requests to arrange seating in court and requests for briefings on case progress. There was little contact.”

It was only after The Age newspaper approached the Foreign Affairs Department on 25 October 2011 that a response was sent to Mr Assange’s British lawyer, Gareth Peirce, in response to a letter of concern Mr Turnbull had hand delivered to Mr Rudd's office on 22 September 2011.

We understand that up until November 2011 the High Commission’s help in the United Kingdom was confined to calls to Mr Assange's lawyers requesting ‘tickets’ to the court hearings. No real and practical help was ever offered. That same month the Consul-General in the United Kingdom, Mr Pascoe, finally requested a briefing on the case.

We are unable to ascertain whether or not a letter from prominent expatriates handed to the High Commission in December 2011 was responded to. Perhaps you would kindly confirm that it was?

Despite the fact that the Government asserts that it has no information from the United States to indicate that it has laid, or is about to lay, any charges against Mr Assange, or evidence that a sealed indictment already exists, we are kept in the dark about exactly what questions our Government has asked, what assurances have been sought and what information our officials have received.

Various Freedom of Information requests have revealed:

  • that the Australian embassy in Washington knew of an "active and vigorous inquiry into whether Julian Assange can be charged under US law, most likely the 1917 Espionage Act" and that the "WikiLeaks case was unprecedented both in its scale and nature";
  • that Australian diplomats have requested "advanced warning of any public announcement of the results of US investigations or proposed actions", but have raised no concerns about the Australian journalist being pursued by US prosecutors on charges of espionage and conspiracy;
  • that Washington provided Canberra with regular updates, including reporting on the issuing of subpoeanas to compel WikiLeaks associates to appear before a grand jury in Virginia, and US State Department efforts to access Twitter and other internet accounts; and
  • that the Australian embassy has obtained "confidential or legal commentary" from private law firms "on aspects surrounding WikiLeaks and/or the positions of Julian Assange and Bradley Manning."

Washington embassy cables sent to Canberra between 1 November 2010 and 31 January 2012 do not contain any references to representations made by Australian diplomats to US officials concerning proper extradition processes, even though we were assured by Attorney-General Nicola Roxon in April this year that they had. We note the timing of Ms Roxon's representations to Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich, US Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and US Deputy Attorney-General James Cole.

We understand that the Australian Government has made representations to the Swedish Government about due process being applied to Mr Assange, and that assurances to that effect have been given by the Swedish Government. But again, we are kept in the dark about exactly what questions were asked and the terms of the assurances received.

We don't even know whether the Government has expressed any concerns - and there should be deep concerns – about the way in which charges were laid, investigated and dropped, only to be picked up again by a different prosecutor; about how Mr Assange's police interview turned up in the tabloid Expressen the day after he was interviewed on 30 August 2010; why the Swedish Prosecutor, Ms Marianne Ny refused to accept Mr Assange's offer to return to Sweden for interview on 9th and 10th of October 2010 and his offer to be interviewed at the Swedish Embassy in accordance with the Mutual Legal Assistance scheme between Sweden and the United Kingdom; about a contentious Swedish action having an Australian citizen electronically tagged and under house arrest without charge for 545 days, or about a Swedish prosecutor authorising an Interpol Red Notice for Mr Assange when he was required merely for questioning.

We find it disturbing that Mr Assange's mother, Christine, felt compelled to respond on Twitter to recent government assurances about consular support provided to Mr Assange, as follows:

Julian asked Aust Govt 2 ask US not 2 put him under "Special Administrative Measures" in prison (no touch torture). Request denied.
Julian asked Aust Govt 2 ask US 2 ask those who had publicly incited murder against him 2 retract statements. Request denied.
Julian asked Aust Govt 2 ask Sweden under Prisoner Transfer Program that any sentence B served in Australia. Request denied.
Julian asked Aust Govt 2 grant him safe passage home from the UK & Sweden at end of proceedings. Request denied.
Julian asked Aust Govt 2 ask Sweden 2 grant bail (unquestioned, uncharged, didn't breach UK bail conditions). Request denied.
Julian asked Aust Gov 2 ask Swedish PM, AG, FM 2 stop misleading public re: case FACTS, & smearing him in public. Request denied.

It is very difficult to accept that, and we fail to see how, the Government's actions to date in relation to Mr Assange's plight or the level of consular support he allegedly has received are "something to be proud of".

Mr Assange's case obviously is politically charged. Governments may not be able to interfere in the legal processes of other countries, but there are plenty of precedents where governments have acted diplomatically to prevent legal processes from being invoked or continued. The Australian Government clearly has that capacity and should exercise it.

Mr Assange and WikiLeaks have given people all over the world, including the Australian people, a glimpse of the truth behind the spin, of the grubby guile behind the veneer of smooth diplomacy, and of the appalling disdain that people in power have for human life, let alone human rights. We have a right and a need to know these truths, and all Mr Assange and WikiLeaks have done is give us some scope to exercise those rights.

We call on the Australian Government to take all steps it can to assist Mr Assange, both by providing direct real assistance to him, including any necessary financial support for his legal representation and family support, and by exploring and utilising all diplomatic channels that may be available to obviate his further persecution through formal legal channels.

Yours faithfully

Gary Kennedy


Newcastle Trades Hall Council

cc The Hon Sharon Grierson MP, 427 Hunter St, Newcastle, NSW, 2300

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