Supporters of Julian Assange say campaign for release ‘on the verge of success’
By Lewis Jackson
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Supporters of Julian Assange said on Wednesday the campaign to free the Wikileaks founder was “on the verge of success” after a concerted diplomatic push by his country, Australia, which claims he is jailed for too long.
Assange is being held in Britain and is fighting extradition to the United States where he is wanted on criminal charges for the release of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables in 2010.
Hundreds of supporters gathered in Sydney’s Hyde Park for a march through the city originally scheduled to coincide with a visit by US President Joe Biden, who canceled his visit due to the US debt ceiling crisis.
Assange’s wife, Stella Assange, traveled to Australia for the protest and told Reuters meetings with politicians in Canberra had been productive.
“What I feel intensely is a concerted effort to bring Julian home to Australian politicians, obviously the government and also the Australian people,” she said.
The push for Assange’s release is “on the verge of success”, his father, John Shipton, told Reuters separately during the march.
Australia is backing the campaign to free Assange ahead of his extradition to the United States, and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and opposition leader Peter Dutton said this month that his detention had lasted too long.
Albanese, an advocate for Assange’s release while in opposition, raised the affair with Biden during a visit to the United States in November.
The Australian High Commissioner to Britain, Stephen Smith, visited the free speech campaigner in prison last month, a meeting Albanese said he encouraged.
WikiLeaks rose to prominence in 2010 when it released thousands of secret files and diplomatic cables in what was the largest such security breach in US military history.
Assange supporters say he is an anti-establishment hero who was victimized because he exposed US wrongdoing in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that his prosecution is a politically motivated attack on the journalism and freedom of expression.
US prosecutors and Western security officials view him as a reckless enemy of the state whose actions have endangered the lives of the agents named in the leaked documents.
Stephen Kenny, lawyer for former Australian Guantanamo detainee David Hicks, told the crowd that Assange had committed no crime.
“It’s a political issue and it requires a political solution,” he said.
(Reporting by Lewis Jackson; Editing by Robert Birsel)