Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has slammed the previous government for falsely claiming Julian Assange is a criminal who has broken laws, and for failing to defend the Australian citizen against calls for his assassination by politicians and mainstream media figures in the US.
According to a United Nations ruling, Julian Assange has been “deprived of liberty” held in “arbitrary detainment” in contravention of international law during his time in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
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“The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention considers that the various forms of deprivation of liberty to which Julian Assange has been subjected constitute a form of arbitrary detention,” panel chairman Seong-Phil Hong said when the panel announced its initial finding in February.
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In a speech to the University of Sydney Law School last week, Prime Minister Turnbull said the previous Australian government is guilty of failing to protect Assange’s right to freedom of speech.
”At the time he was being described as breaking the law by Ms Gillard, prominent American politicians and journalists were describing him as a terrorist and, in some cases, calling for him to be assassinated,” he said.
”Julia Gillard could have quite properly deplored his publishing of confidential information, sympathised with our embarrassed American allies, but at the same time registered our profound unhappiness that an Australian citizen is being threatened in this way by leading figures in another country whose commitment to freedom of speech and the rule of law we traditionally regard as being no less than our own.”
Instead of toeing the establishment line, former Prime Minister Gillard should have admonished the US for such sloppy data security, he said.
Prime Minister Turnbull has form when it comes to protecting whistleblowers and dissidents from attacks by the establishment. A former lawyer, Mr Turnbull shot to prominence in 1986, when he represented the former MI5 officer Peter Wright against efforts by Margaret Thatcher’s British government to ban the publication of his book Spycatcher.
Wright was then living in Australia and the contents of his book were already in the public domain. With Mr Turnbull’s assistance he won the case against Thatcher’s government and a subsequent appeal was dismissed in the High Court.
In his speech at the University of Sydney Law School, Mr Turnbull said the High Court was ”very clear that an Australian court should not act ‘to protect the intelligence secrets and confidential political information’ of a foreign government”.