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Assange wants Gillard to guarantee his safety

Date

Philip Dorling

Prime Minister Julia Gillard arrives at Canberra airport yesterday. Ms Gillard attended the G20 summit in Mexico and Rio+20 forum in Brazil.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard arrives at Canberra airport yesterday. Ms Gillard attended the G20 summit in Mexico and Rio+20 forum in Brazil. Photo: AAP

JULIAN ASSANGE hopes his bid for political asylum at the Ecuadorean embassy in London will elicit diplomatic guarantees that he will not be prosecuted by the US on espionage and conspiracy charges.

In an interview with Fairfax Media, the WikiLeaks publisher has argued that his circumstances were ''a serious political matter … [that] the Australian government should treat with the seriousness it requires''.

''I have been attacked by the US, from the Vice-President down, as a high-tech terrorist, and by the Swedish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister - surely that requires some direct response from the Gillard government.''

"I have been attacked by the US, from the Vice-President down, as a high-tech terrorist ... surely that requires some direct response from the Gillard government" ... Julian Assange.

"I have been attacked by the US, from the Vice-President down, as a high-tech terrorist ... surely that requires some direct response from the Gillard government" ... Julian Assange. Photo: Reuters

Mr Assange acknowledged that if granted asylum he could still be unable to leave the Ecuadorean embassy without risk of arrest and extradition to Sweden to face questioning about sexual assault allegations.

Mr Assange, who recently failed to persuade the British Supreme Court to reopen his appeal against extradition to Sweden, fears a hostile political climate in Stockholm will facilitate his ultimate extradition to the US in retaliation for WikiLeaks' publication of secret US military and diplomatic documents. He has repeatedly said he is prepared to be questioned in Sweden if there were guarantees he would not then be extradited to the US.

''Ultimately it may be a matter of what guarantees the United Kingdom, the United States and Sweden are willing to provide,'' Mr Assange said. ''For example, if the US were to guarantee [it would] drop the grand jury investigation and any further investigation of WikiLeaks publishing activity, that would be an important guarantee … Diplomatic commitments do have some weight.''

Ecuador is considering Mr Assange's asylum application, made when he presented himself at the country's London embassy last Tuesday.

Ecuador's ambassador in London has been recalled for discussions in Quito and the President, Rafael Correa, has indicated his government will consult with other interested governments.

Last Wednesday the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said the Australian High Commission in London was engaged in discussions ''directly with their counterparts from Ecuador in London''.

Mr Assange said he had been present when the Ecuadorean ambassador was telephoned by the High Commission. ''The Australians had nothing of substance to say - [it was] just an information gathering exercise.''

Senator Carr told the ABC Insiders program yesterday he had received no indication from discussions with two unnamed American officials that the US government intends to seek Mr Assange's extradition. ''There is not the remotest evidence that is the case,'' he said. Senator Carr added that US officials ''haven't been able to rule out that one corner of the American administration is considering [extradition], but I would expect the US wouldn't want to touch this.''

Diplomatic cables released under freedom of information legislation show that as early as December 2010 the Australian Embassy in Washington reported to Canberra that WikiLeaks and Mr Assange were targets of an ''unprecedented'' US criminal investigation focused on possible espionage charges.

Senator Carr renewed the government's criticism of WikiLeaks, saying ''releasing a whole batch of secret material without assessment and without justification raises profound moral questions''.

Mr Assange observed that it was ''fascinating to note that the government is at odds with popular opinion''.

''It's not acting in its electoral interests - which makes one wonder what interests it's … serving.''

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