Julian Assange is “free to return home” to Australia if the US loses its final appeal to extradite him to face espionage charges, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday.
The 49-year-old WikiLeaks won a major legal victory Monday when a UK court deemed him too great a suicide risk to send to the US, a decision the US government immediately said it would appeal.
“Should the appeal fail, obviously he would be able to return to Australia like any other Australian,” Morrison told local radio station 2GB.
The nation’s leader repeated his promise in a second interview, with Melbourne Radio 3AW, saying, “Assuming if that all that turns out, then he’s like any other Australian. He’d be free to return home if he wished.”
He stressed that his nation was “not a party” to the court battle, saying, “It’s just a straightforward process of the legal system in the UK working its way through.”
However, Australia repeatedly offered support to Assange, who faces up to 175 years in prison if convicted of espionage from hacking US secrets, officials stressed.
“We have made 19 offers of consular assistance to Mr. Assange since 2019 that have gone unanswered,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement. “We will continue to offer consular support.”
Assange’s lawyers plan to push for his release during a bail hearing scheduled for Wednesday. He has been in custody in the UK since April 2019, when he was arrested after being booted from his safe-haven in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
US prosecutors have indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked military and diplomatic documents a decade ago.
Assange’s lawyers have insisted that he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment protections of freedom of speech for publishing leaked documents that exposed US military wrongdoing.
In her ruling Monday, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser stressed that her ruling not to extradite him was not based on his legal or political arguments — but on his obvious mental health risks.
She described Assange as “a depressed and sometimes despairing man” who had the “intellect and determination” to circumvent any suicide prevention measures taken by American prison authorities.
With Post wires
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