Monday, June 16, 2014

The hypocrisy of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs

Support for Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, has been consistent over time. But where you would expect the most enthusiastic campaign, from his native country, Australia, the government has been least inclined to offer assistance. Dilatory is a word that comes to mind. Myself and two colleagues in Sweden, Okoth Osewe and Rafik Saley have co-written letters to Bob Carr, when he was Minister of Foreign Affairs, and to the most recent foreign minister, Julie Bishop, about the plight of Mr. Assange, and to inform the government that the ambassador from Sweden to Australia, Sven Olof Petersson, has knowingly been involved in handing individuals to the CIA to be rendered and tortured abroad.

We did not expect much from Bob Carr because of his known ties to America and all things American but Julie Bishop, at least while in opposition and while seeking to resonate with public Australian sentiment, suggested she was ashamed of Australia's neglected treatment of Assange by Carr.

Julie Bishop says as Foreign Minister she would re-examine the government’s conduct towards WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who remains unable to meaningfully exercise his right to asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

Bob Carr's memoirs published this year show that Mr. Assange was right in criticizing the lack of meaningful assistance by the Gillard government. Like the previous government, the current Australian administration has not made any representations to Sweden and the United States in order to uphold Mr. Assange's rights. Carr in fact admitted to misleading the public with his false statement that Assange had received more assistance than any other Australian abroad.

It is a fact that the United States is seeking the prosecution of Mr. Assange, most recently confirmed by the Department of Justice in a submission to the court in the EPIC case (April 2014).

Julie Bishop said that, if elected to office, she would take advice on whether anything should change in the government’s position towards Julian Assange:

“We have differed with the government in a number of respects, particulary when Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that Julian Assange was guilty of an illegal act. I took issue with that at the time for he has not been  charged with any breach of laws in Australia and it was irresponsible for the prime minister to make such a prejudicial claim particularly given the circumstances he was in overseas. So, I would look at the matter carefully at the time, but in January 2013 it is hard to say what the situation will be at the time of the election, should we be privileged enough to be elected by the Australian people.”

In our letter to Julie Bishop we reminded her of her commitment in opposition and expected at long last a positive response. Instead we got a very similar reply to the one we received from Bob Carr's letter writer. Although the reply did not actually say so the interpretation was that the Australian foreign office does not mind if Sweden sends over ambassadors with a record for the approval of, and complicity in, torture and rendition. And rather than the challenging words she made as a potential Minister of Foreign Affairs, now she is in office the whole tenor is one of acceptance that Australia does not care about one of their most influential citizens.

Here is the response:

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