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Assange is on his own: Morrison

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison says a push by the United States to have Wikileaks founder Julian Assange extradited from Britain for leaking government secrets has got nothing to do with Australia.

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“When Australians travel overseas and find themselves in difficulty with the law, they face the judicial systems of those countries,” Morrison told the ABC after Assange’s dramatic arrest in London yesterday.

But with Assange supporters concerned he could face the death penalty if extradited to the US, Foreign Minister Marise Payne later said the Australian government remained committed to the principle of not exposing citizens to the death penalty, which it “completely opposed”.

British police arrested Assange yesterday, after Ecuador withdrew its asylum that had allowed him to take refuge in the country’s embassy in London for seven years.

Assange was taken before a court in London and charged with skipping bail in 2012

In November 2011, London’s High Court said Assange should be extradited to Sweden for questioning over alleged sex crimes after accusations by two former WikiLeaks volunteers in 2010.

After losing an appeal, Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in June 2012 to avoid being extradited. He was granted political asylum and citizenship by former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa.

Assange remained in the embassy after Sweden dropped the investigation against him in 2017, fearing the US wanted to prosecute him.

US President Donald Trump says he does not have an opinion about the arrest of Assange, who faces the prospect of extradition to the United States over the publishing of secret official information.

“I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing… I don’t really have any opinion,” Trump said to reporters before a meeting with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in.

On the campaign trail during the 2016 presidential election, Trump repeatedly praised WikiLeaks.

Shortly before the election, Trump said, “I love WikiLeaks”, after it released a cache of hacked Democratic Party emails that harmed the candidacy of his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

US prosecutors have charged Assange with conspiring with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to access a government computer.

It was part of a 2010 leak by WikiLeaks of hundreds of thousands of US military reports about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and American diplomatic communications.

Manning was convicted by court martial in 2013 of espionage and other crimes for providing more than 700,000 documents, videos, diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts to Wikileaks, though the final 28 years of her sentence were later commuted by then president Barack Obama.

Assange’s indictment was made secretly last year and unsealed on Thursday.

He faces up to five years in prison if convicted, with legal experts saying more charges were possible.

The indictment said that Assange in March 2010 engaged in a conspiracy to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on US Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network, a US government network used for classified documents and communications.

Assange’s stay inside the Ecuador embassy became more tenuous after former president Correa was replaced by Lenin Moreno in 2017.

Moreno has since moved Ecuador’s foreign policy to a more US-friendly stance and been openly critical of Assange in recent months, calling him an inherited problem and accusing him of violating the rules of his asylum.

Moreno said the South American country had complied with its duties to Assange under international law and he accused WikiLeaks of repeatedly violating the rules of his asylum, including a provision which was meant to stop him intervening in the internal matters of other countries.

A leak of Vatican documents in 2019 was the most recent example of Assange violating that policy, Moreno said in a video posted on Twitter.

“I requested Great Britain to guarantee that Mr Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty,” Moreno said.

“The British government has confirmed it in writing, in accordance with its own rules.”

-with AAP

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