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WikiLeaks editor-in-chief urges Australians to support Julian Assange

Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, in London in April.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, in London in April.Credit:AP

“The trial is at the end of February, there is no time,” Mr Hrafnsson said. “I really would like to see some more push from this side, to see politicians here see the gravity of the situation.”

Mr Assange is being held on remand in the maximum security Belmarsh Prison as the United States seeks his extradition on charges under the Espionage Act relating to WikiLeaks’ soliciting, obtaining and publishing secret military, government and diplomatic documents. In September he finished a 50-week sentence for breaching bail conditions when he sought asylum in the embassy.

Mr Hrafnsson said Mr Assange’s lawyers would argue that espionage was a political act and that a treaty between the United Kingdom and the US precluded extradition for political cases. He said if the US was allowed to extradite an Australian citizen from the UK over charges relating to publishing material in Europe, no journalists would be safe in conducting their work.

He said criticism that Mr Assange had encouraged a right-wing conspiracy theory – that US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was involved in the murder of a Democratic Party staffer who police said had been killed in a mugging – was “overblown”. He also said it was coincidence that  WikiLeaks released documents damaging to the Clinton campaign just minutes after news broke that then Republican candidate Donald Trump had been recorded boasting that he was able to indecently assault women due to his fame.

Mr Hrafnsson said WikiLeaks had released a stream of documents that damaged Mrs Clinton in the lead up to the 2016 election because it had a responsibility to inform the public about a political candidate before, rather than after, the election.

He said there was no evidence that the documents published by WikiLeaks that damaged Mrs Clinton had been provided by Russia, but that even if they had been it would irrelevant.

“You have to just analyse the material, is it newsworthy or not? Is it in the public interest or not? It is just common sense.”

The US government argues that Mr Assange is not a journalist, while some of his critics within the profession have voiced concerns that his publishing of millions of unfiltered documents, and that his apparent political activism, do not meet journalistic standards.

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But his supporters, including leading media outlets in the UK and the US, say his prosecution is a dangerous attack on freedom of speech. The author and journalist Masha Gessen, a high-profile critic of both Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, wrote earlier this year: “He is the perfect target precisely because he is unsympathetic. One has to hold one’s nose while defending Assange — and yet one must defend Assange.”

Mr Hrafnsson will address the National Press Club and meet with politicians on Tuesday.

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