Australia pressured over Assange

08:24, Aug 17 2012
Julian Assange
JULIAN ASSANGE: Holed up in Ecuadorian embassy.

The Australian government is facing more calls to help troubled Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who remains holed up in Ecuador's London embassy where he has been granted asylum.

The federal government is so far refusing to get involved, with ministers reiterating when questioned that the asylum decision is a matter for Mr Assange and the governments of Ecuador and the UK.

The Greens believe he should be given more than consular assistance, and a member of Mr Assange's defence team says Canberra should help end the international stand-off that is keeping him inside the embassy.

Ecuador has granted Mr Assange diplomatic asylum on the grounds that if he was extradited to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sex crimes, he could later be transferred to the US and face life in prison "or even the death penalty" over his website's release of classified US documents.

But Britain is refusing to grant him safe passage out of the country, saying it has an "obligation" to extradite the 41-year-old to Sweden.

Like the Australian government, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says Mr Assange should be subject to British law like any other citizen.

"Whatever the ordinary law of Britain is, whatever would happen to anyone else in the same circumstances, Julia Assange should get identical treatment to anyone else in a similar position," Mr Abbott told the Nine Network on Friday.

"He should be given all the assistance which the Australian government would give to any Australian in trouble abroad."

However, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam says consular assistance is not enough.

"He's in enormous trouble and he needs the help of his government," the senator said.

Some experts have suggested the Australian could be taken from the embassy to the airport in a "diplomatic bag".

Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC, who's advising Mr Assange's defence, has a better idea.

"The Ecuadorians have been questioning the Americans, the Swedes and the British, but the obvious country, the country of Mr Assange's nationality, hasn't been involved," he told ABC TV on Friday.

"So it may be an opportunity for Australia to get involved on behalf of its national and see if it can square this circle."

Mr Robertson said well-intentioned people wanted Mr Assange to face the allegations in Sweden as long as there wasn't a risk he'd be transferred to the US.

He said if Australia could obtain an "undertaking" from Sweden that once it had dealt with him he'd be free to return to Australia, he was sure Mr Assange would have faith in the Australian courts regarding a subsequent extradition request by the US.

The WikiLeaks founder himself took a swipe at Australia after watching the decision being announced via a live link to a news conference from the Ecuadorian capital, Quito.

"It was not Britain or my home country, Australia, that stood up to protect me from persecution but a courageous, independent Latin American nation," Mr Assange said.

The Ecuadorian government was also quick to criticise Canberra, saying, "Mr Assange is without the due protection and help that he should receive from any state of which he is a citizen."

WikiLeaks says its founder will speak on Sunday in London "in front of the Ecuadorian embassy" where he's been staying for two months.

It will be his first public appearance since March.