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Parliament votes in favour of bringing Assange home

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Andrew Wilkie MP successfully moved a motion to end the extradition of Julian Assange (Images via YouTube, Wikimedia Commons - edited)

In a historic vote, parliamentarians have shown unprecedented support for the return home of imprisoned journalist Julian Assange. Dr John Jiggens reports.

WEDNESDAY 14 FEBRUARY turned out to be an unanticipated Happy Valentine’s Day for Julian Assange supporters. The Australian House of Representatives passed a motion introduced by Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilkie, on behalf of the Parliamentary Friends of Julian Assange, urging the U.S. and the UK to bring their prosecution of the WikiLeaks founder to a close and allow him to return to his family and home in Australia.

The vote was 86 for Yes (ALP, Greens and Independents) and 42 for No (mostly Liberal and National).

In an unprecedented show of parliamentary support for Assange, two-thirds of the lower house voted for the motion. It was not unanimous because Coalition members overwhelmingly chose to support the U.S. and UK in what former UN Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, described as the torture of an Australian journalist.

Greens leader Adam Bandt appealed to the Coalition to support the motion. Assange has become symbolic of journalists around the world who face attacks on press freedom, he argued, ranging from political prosecutions through to murder.

Assange’s prosecution set a chilling precedent for journalists about their ability to hold governments to account and to tell the truth without facing imprisonment and without facing a risk to their own lives.

Bandt said:

“If governments think that participation in the AUKUS agreement and alliance is so critical, surely part of that should be the insistence on human rights and the proper treatment of our citizens — of Australian citizens. If we are sitting around a table with these governments, we should be able to insist that Julian Assange is brought home.”

His appeal fell on deaf ears — it remained AUKUS regardless of any cost.

For Assange, the situation is still perilous. He remains incarcerated in HM Prison Belmarsh in the UK, where he has spent the last five years, locked down for 23 hours each day in a three-metre by two-metre cell, unconvicted of any charges, an innocent man in a living hell, like Dylan’s Hurricane. Like Nelson Mandela, he walks his long walk to freedom around that tiny cell every day.

In one week, the UK High Court will decide whether he has exhausted all his legal appeals to prevent being extradited to the USA, where he would face charges that could see him imprisoned for 175 years under their notorious 1917 Espionage Act for publishing material, which revealed shocking evidence of misconduct by U.S. forces.

As Senator David Shoebridge tweeted on the day of the vote:

‘There are real concerns that if Julian loses next week he will be immediately extradited.’

In this epic David versus Goliath mismatch – one lone Australian journalist pitted against the world’s greatest empire – it was rare good news. Members and supporters of the Parliamentary Friends of Julian Assange tweeted happily.

Andrew Wilkie, Convenor of the Parliamentary Friends of Assange:

‘I successfully moved a motion to recognise the importance of bringing Julian Assange’s extradition to an end. The Govt voted for it in an unprecedented show of political support for Julian. The U.S .must heed these calls & drop the extradition. #FreeAssangeNOW #auspol #politas.’

Adam Bandt, Leader of the Greens:

‘Today – for the first time – the House voted to call on the UK & the USA to bring Julian Assange home. His family, the people and this Parliament want him home.
PM — it’s time we make this a reality.’

Dr Monique Ryan, Independent member, Kooyong:

‘A powerful moment. Today the Government and crossbench called on the United States and the United Kingdom to stop prosecuting Julian Assange so he can come home. This is the ultimate test of our nations' friendship and I sincerely hope it is heard.’

David Shoebridge, Greens Senator:

‘Today the House of Representatives has voted in favour of a motion from my Parliamentary Friends of Assange colleague @WilkieMP on the need to bring Julian home. This is a genuinely historic moment and a testament to the work of so many for so many years. 86-42 vote.’

Dr John Jiggens is a writer and journalist currently working in the community newsroom at Bay-FM in Byron Bay.

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