Perhaps because we began as a nation of convicts and gaolers, Australians understand that freedom is a flexible concept. We are all for it, indeed we expect it, but we are happy for the government to look after it while we get on with our lives, online and off.
Obviously, we wouldn’t cop the government surrendering our freedom. Or would we? How do we feel about giving up our liberty to the Swedish?
Currently Julian Assange, an Australian citizen, is detained against his will in England, because a prosecutor in Sweden wants to talk to him. He hasn’t been charged with any offence in Sweden, let alone the U.K. He has offered to talk to the Swedish prosecutor, in England, but despite the Swedes having a prosecutorial team based in London for a year, they have chosen to spend millions of Krona on extradition proceedings, rather than accept his offer to sit down voluntarily in London.
And now the British High Court, bya majority of 5 to 2 has decided that Julian Assange should be forced to go to Sweden to talk with the Swedish prosecutor. Despite Australia’s Foreign Minister and Australian media, including the ABC, routinely reporting that Mr. Assange is to face “charges” in Sweden, there are only untested statements awaiting him. No court proceedings have been commenced. No criminal charges have been filed.
In all this, the Australian government has maintained a chilling silence in defence of an Australian citizen’s right to freedom. Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s recent statement that “no Australian has received more consular support than Julian Assange” is designed to cover the fact that no Australian citizen has received less political support than Julian Assange.
Where is Bob Carr’s condemnation of a European justice system that allows for the forced transport of foreign nationals on the request of prosecutors, rather than judges? Where is the defence of our standards of justice and criminality, which would never countenance the situation in which Mr. Assange now finds himself?
Australia can’t change Swedish or European law, but it can stand up for the freedom of its citizens, wherever they find themselves embroiled in a justice system that doesn’t meet our standards. After all, two of the seven judges on the British High Court found it reasonable to decide that a Swedish prosecutor is not a “judicial officer” entitled to seek extradition, as defined in the E.U. extradition treaty, adopted by the British Parliament at the time of its passage. Why is it so hard for Bob Carr and Julia Gillard to support that significant minority opinion, and Australian legal standards, on behalf of an Australian citizen?
Regretfully, the public statements of Julia Gillard regarding Julian Assange make it difficult to accept that the government supports his freedom. The Prime Minister’s statement in late 2010 that Mr. Assange had engaged in “illegal” conduct in releasing copies of emails from U.S. and Australian diplomatic sources has been demonstrated to be false, simply by the lack of any prosecutorial action in the intervening period. Indeed, Shadow Attorney General, Senator George Brandis, Q.C., stated at the time that Mr. Assange hadn’t broken any Australian or American laws. Yet rather than an apology for this slander by the Prime Minister, Mr. Assange has received lukewarm “consular support” in his battle for freedom from the clutches of the Swedes.
The Gillard Government is well aware that the U.S. Government is lurking over the horizon, having charged Private Bradley Manning with offences for transferring U.S. diplomatic cables from military computers to the Wikileaks website that Mr. Assange operates. The Gillard Government is also aware of suggestions of a sealed indictment already awaiting Mr. Assange in the U.S., where he could face serious charges under the Espionage Act, if the U.S. successfully extradites him from Sweden.
Given the Government’s failure to support Australian freedom against the belligerent action of the Swedes, what hope is there that this administration will stand up for an Australian citizen against the interests of the U.S.?
Enough. Australia needs to condemn the Swedish attempt to extradite Mr. Assange, when he has offered repeatedly to make himself available to the Swedish prosecutor who has been visiting London weekly for the last year. Australia needs to condemn the E.U. law that makes extradition by prosecutors allowable, before any charges have been laid.
But most of all, Australia needs to decide if freedom means anything anymore, because the current government has clearly formed the view that the liberty of Australians overseas is not worth arguing about. For Australians who have grown used to expressing their opinions online, this abdication of defending our freedom should be deeply concerning. The governments of other nations, with considerably more clout than Sweden, such as China and the U.S., will be delighted with the Gillard government’s treatment of freedom as something Australians can live without.
For current information about the worldwide movement to support see Julian Assange