Council goes into bat for Assange


By David Schout

The City of Melbourne will write to the Morrison government calling for it to intervene and uphold the human rights of WikiLeaks founder and former local resident Julian Assange.

The council joined a growing chorus of international voices urging the government to step in and protect Mr Assange, who is currently being held in a UK maximum-security prison.

A former resident and student within the City of Melbourne, the activist founded WikiLeaks while living in Carlton.

In addressing the council on June 23, Assange’s father John Shipton said Julian was a “child of Melbourne” and commended it for joining the “powerful international movement” supporting his son.

And while several councillors acknowledged their limitations within a case involving the highest levels of US and UK government, they nevertheless supported the motion nine votes to one, with one councillor abstaining.

Cr Jackie Watts, who moved the motion at the Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting, said it was about “supporting a Melburnian in a dire situation”.

“We have an obligation to step up when we see such abuses occurring,” she said.

“This is a city that respects the intellectual endeavours of journalists. A city relies on a degree of transparency, which our investigative journalists provide for us. We don’t hide from uncomfortable information coming to light.”

After publishing a series of internationally sensitive videos and documents in 2010, Assange would eventually seek refuge for almost seven years in London’s Ecuadorian embassy before being arrested in April 2019.

Since being sent to prison, he is reportedly in ill health and according to a senior UN expert who visited him has shown symptoms associated with prolonged exposure to psychological torture.

Cr Rohan Leppert said that Mr Assange’s access to support and sunlight was “negligible” in the high-security Belmarsh prison, and therefore, the timing of the council’s support was “critical”.

“In 2011, WikiLeaks received an award from the Walkley Foundation for most outstanding contribution to journalism. Today he (Assange) is in Belmarsh prison in the UK in the midst of extradition hearings related to publications that the Walkley Foundation awarded him for. This is a farce.”

Cr Leppert said that irrespective of the council’s views on Assange, it must fight for his right to basic human rights.

“Our government does not need to agree with Mr Assange’s methods, and we know that they don’t. There are probably many councillors – myself included – on a number of matters that don’t agree with some of what Mr Assange might do, or be, or presents as a human. That is not what we’re considering here. We have to demand that our government upholds the human rights of one of its citizens that is unjustly imprisoned.”

He said the council must act irrespective of the potential impact it might have on the federal government •

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