WASHINGTON/SYDNEY, Sept 20 – A cross-party delegation of Australian lawmakers that traveled to the United States seeking the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said they had a productive discussion in Washington with the U.S. Justice Department.
The group of Australian lawmakers urged U.S. officials to drop their attempts to extradite Assange from a British prison to the United States, where he is wanted on charges over WikiLeaks’ release of confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic cables.
“We had a fair hearing and we had a productive discussion,” Australian Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said after the meeting.
The delegation included lawmakers from the Labor government, the opposition Liberal and National parties, and the Greens.
Labor Member of Parliament Tony Zappia said Australians believed Assange, an Australian citizen, had been punished enough and that his charges should be dropped.
“Our discussions with the Department of Justice right now and with others in Washington have enabled us to put that view very clearly and very strongly, we’ve done that,” Zappia told reporters.
A handful of Assange supporters gathered outside the Justice Department building where the meeting took place and hailed Assange as a journalist who should be reunited with his family.
Assange’s supporters say he has been victimized because he exposed U.S. wrongdoing and potential crimes, including in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington says the release of the secret documents put lives in danger.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in May said he was frustrated that a diplomatic solution had not been reached to end Assange’s detention, and that he remained concerned about Assange’s mental health. Zappia said Albanese might raise the issue when he visits the U.S. next month.
“We think this has gone on too long, and the breadth of political representation on this delegation I think demonstrates that there are a great many people in Australia who would like to see this matter resolved,” Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong told reporters in New York on Wednesday, where she is attending the United Nations General Assembly.
Support for Assange among U.S. policymakers remains low.
If extradited, Assange faces a sentence of up to 175 years in a maximum-security prison.
Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; additional reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney. Editing by Stephen Coates and Michael Perry
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Kanishka Singh is a breaking news reporter for Reuters in Washington DC, who primarily covers US politics and national affairs in his current role. His past breaking news coverage has spanned across a range of topics like the Black Lives Matter movement; the US elections; the 2021 Capitol riots and their follow up probes; the Brexit deal; US-China trade tensions; the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan; the COVID-19 pandemic; and a 2019 Supreme Court verdict on a religious dispute site in his native India.
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