British Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn says he is surprised over what he sees as a shift in the British Government’s position on Julian Assange and the UK’s “unbalanced” extradition relationship with the United States.
- Australian MPs have arrived in London ahead of prison meeting with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
- Andrew Wilkie has met with UK Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn
- Mr Corbyn believes the UK Government’s view on its “unbalanced” extradition treaty with the US has shifted
Mr Corbyn made the comments after a meeting with Australian independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who is in London on a privately funded trip to visit the WikiLeaks founder in prison.
The Labour leader told the ABC that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s answers to House of Commons questions about the extradition deal the UK had with the US last Wednesday (local time) were unexpected.
“He accepted that it is an unbalanced treaty and it is not a fair one, therefore I think that is a big change by the British Government,” Mr Corbyn said.
In the House, Mr Corbyn had argued that the UK had a “one-sided extradition treaty” with the US and asked Mr Johnson to commit to an “equal and balanced” future relationship.
“I do think that there are elements of that relationship that are unbalanced and I certainly think it is worth looking at,” Mr Johnson replied.
Mr Corbyn said he thought this could be partly linked to a high-profile battle underway between the US and UK after Washington rejected a request for the extradition of an American citizen who fled Britain after allegedly causing the death of a teenage motorcyclist.
He said it was also unexpected that Mr Johnson did not argue against him when he questioned whether it was right that someone should be deported for exposing the truth.
“The Prime Minister did not challenge my assertions on this, but seems to me to understand that there is a principle here that somebody who opens up and tells the truth, as Julian Assange has done, should not face deportation to the United States,” Mr Corbyn said.
Assange ‘abandoned by Australian Government’
Mr Wilkie plans to visit Assange in Belmarsh Prison on Tuesday afternoon (local time), along with Queensland federal MP George Christensen, who is also in London.
“I want to convey a message to Julian that although he has been abandoned by the Australian Government, although he seems to have no support from the British Government or the US Government, he does in fact have a lot of support from millions of people right around the world,” Mr Wilkie told the ABC.
Mr Wilkie described the case against Assange as scandalous.
“Let’s not forget the substantive issue here, and that’s that an Australian citizen has publicised a range of important information in the public interest, including hard evidence of US war crimes, and his reward for doing that is facing extradition,” he said.
Ahead of the visit to the prison, Mr Christensen said he wanted to check on Assange’s welfare to inform the Government back home.
“For me to be a bit parochial, he’s a North Queenslander, he is someone who is facing potentially the rest of his life behind bars for simply wanting to publish and publishing the truth,” Mr Christensen said.
“That is wrong, that is morally and ethically wrong, and you’ve got to be in these fights if you believe in free speech and free press.”
‘Family is everything’
Assange’s father John Shipton will facilitate the meeting at the high-security Belmarsh Prison in south-west London.
Mr Shipton moved to London three months ago to be closer to his son and to support and lobby on behalf of the 48-year-old.
There is a strong resemblance between the 75-year old and his son.
Mr Shipton told the ABC he brought his four-year-old daughter to London because he wanted to show the world Assange was surrounded by family.
“I brought her to see Julian,” he said.
“I think the family gathering together and coming to see Julian will help him through this crisis and show people that Julian is not isolated, to show that family is everything.
“Without family you can’t defend yourself against the oppressions or winds of fate blowing in the wrong direction.”
Mr Shipton said he believed his son would not survive if he was jailed in the US.
“They didn’t go through 10 years of persecution to take him over there and put him in a feather bed,” he said.
Crunch time approaching for Assange
In less than a week’s time, Assange will face the legal might of the United States Government, which will argue for his extradition in a court near Belmarsh Prison, where he has been incarcerated since last year.
His own legal team say if the Americans succeed, he will not receive a fair trial and will be jailed for up to 175 years.
The WikiLeaks founder is facing 18 charges — 17 under the espionage act — for conspiracy to receive, obtain and disclose classified information.
Much of the information related to the US prosecution of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Who can forget that shocking image of American attack helicopters gunning down Iraqi civilians and journalists in the streets in Iraq?” Mr Wilkie said.
“This stuff matters. We should not be persecuting Julian Assange.”
Conservative British MP Bob Seely disagreed. He argued publishing the information was a crime.
“If you don’t want to do the time, don’t do the crime,” he told the ABC outside the UK Parliament in Westminster.
Mr Seely’s grievance also relates to the alleged manipulation of the 2016 US presidential election.
In that year, WikiLeaks obtained and released emails and other documents from the Clinton presidential campaign.
“It was pretty obvious reading the indictments put down by [former special counsel for the US Department of Justice] Robert Mueller that WikiLeaks was used wittingly or unwittingly, knowingly or not, as a vehicle by which the Russians hacked into the Democratic Congress servers and stole lots of information,” Mr Seely said.
“I think Assange has been a useful idiot for people to attack liberal democracies.”
The extradition hearing will last a month in total, but the trial will be split, with one week to begin on January 24 and the remaining proceedings taking place in May.
Defence lawyers for Assange have told preliminary hearings most of the witnesses they wish to call will give evidence anonymously, although the US counsel has already indicated they will argue to have them struck off.
For now, Mr Shipton will continue to call London home.
“Julian’s circumstance is dire,” he said.
“It’s very awkward to speak about it. It just upsets me.”
“The best thing is to take each day as it comes and work as well and as hard as you can on ensuring that your children aren’t oppressed and aren’t persecuted to death.”