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Why freed Assange remaining silent

Written by on June 28, 2024

Julian Assange returned to Australia a free man on Wednesday night, sparking a media circus that has seen wall to wall coverage of comments from his legal team and prominent politicians – but he hasn’t said a word.

Ending his 14-year pursuit by US authorities, Mr Assange pleaded guilty to one count of violating US espionage laws in exchange for his freedom and return to Australia.

He returned to Australia on a private jet on Wednesday night, acknowledging supporters who lined up to greet him at the Fairbairn RAAF base, but did not make a statement.

His wife Stella Assange and lawyers have held two press conferences and appeared on multiple media outlets on Thursday morning.

But Mr Assange has not been heard from or seen since the airport arrival.

Ms Assange said he needed time to recover after “a 72-hour long flight to freedom” and years of detention and incarceration.

“He is just savouring freedom for the first time in 14 years,” she told reporters on Thursday.

“He needs time to rest and to recover and he is just rediscovering normal life and he needs space to do that.

“He plans to taste real food and he plans to enjoy his freedom.”

She said he has yet to be reunited with his two young sons, who were asleep when he arrived in Australia.

“We want to do it when we are in the same place,” she said.

“They were very excited when they found out their dad was coming home.”

She said she expected her husband would continue his mission.

“Julian is the most principled man I know and he will always defend human rights and speak out against injustice and he can choose how he does that, because he is a free man,” Stella said.

Ms Assange said his legal team would now fight to have the WikiLeaks founder pardoned, with his admission of guilt setting a dangerous precedent for journalism.

“I think that he will be pardoned if the press unite to push back against this precedent,” she said.

“Because it affects all of you. It affects your future ability to warn the public and to publish without fear.”

But his plans have been met with a mixed response. A former American intelligence chief warned against the idea, saying the US could see it as an act of “betrayal” by the Australian government.

Speaking to Sky News on Thursday morning, just hours after the WikiLeaks founder touched down at Canberra Airport, ex CIA chief of staff Larry Pfeiffer said he believed Mr Assange had served his time for leaking classified documents that the US said posed a threat to national security.

Asked about if the plea deal would affect relationships between Australia and the US, Mr Pfeiffer said he believed things would be “fine” as long as the Albanese government didn’t push for a pardon.

“I’d be very surprised if this administration were to consider any kind of a pardon at this point,” he said.

“This plea agreement is something that would have been shopped around all of the pertinent government institutions, intelligence community, State Department, Justice Department, Homeland Security, and they would have had to have come to some kind of an agreement to this plea agreement.

“So I think to now take the next step to pardon would probably be seen by some in that equation as being a betrayal of what they’d agreed to.”

Speaking on Channel 9’s Today, Greens senator Nick McKim also conceded that Mr Assange had a slim chance of receiving a pardon.

“I don’t know what his chances are of a pardon. He should get one. I mean, he’s been treated appallingly for a for a long time,” he said.

“(Assange) was persecuted terribly for revealing really important truths that made really, really powerful people around the world very uncomfortable. And he paid a heavy price for that.”

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson said his team would not just be seeking a pardon but was also pursing legal changes to avoid journalists being prosecuted for similar crimes.

“Of course, the word pardon has been discussed over the last number of years,” she said.

“It is something that I think press freedom groups are talking about already because of the precedent that was set, that it would be the right thing to do to give him a pardon given the free speech implications of what has happened and the chilling effect of that prosecution.”

On Wednesday night, Mr Albanese revealed he had spoken to Mr Assange to welcome him back to the country. He said the mission to bring the Australian home was a “culmination of careful, patient and determined work”.

“As Prime Minister, I have been clear – regardless of what you think of his activities, Mr Assange’s case had dragged on for too long,” Mr Albanese tweeted.

“I have clearly and consistently – at every opportunity and at every level – advocated for Mr Assange’s case to be concluded.”

The call has been used as political ammunition by Liberal senator Simon Birmingham, who said Mr Assange’s case didn’t warrant the fanfare.

“This call is neither necessary nor appropriate. Julian Assange was not wrongfully detained like Cheng Lei, Sean Turnell or Kylie Moore-Gilbert,” the Liberal senate leader shared on X.

“For 12 years Assange chose to avoid facing justice in countries with fair judicial systems. He is undeserving of this treatment.”