Julian Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson has called on the Australian government to act swiftly to secure his release from a high-security prison in the United Kingdom, saying she doesn’t know how much longer the WikiLeaks founder can survive.

Mr Assange, an Australian citizen, could face 175 years in prison for what Ms Robinson described as “acts of journalism” during an address at the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

In June, the UK government approved the extradition of Mr Assange to the United States to face trial on espionage charges. His lawyers have filed an appeal.

“I really don’t know how much longer he can last,” Ms Robinson said.

“The world was shocked by his appearance when he was arrested back in 2019. I wasn’t.”

She said she had watched Mr Assange’s health steadily decline inside the Ecuadorian embassy, where he sought refuge from 2012–2019, and described witnessing him have a ministroke in real time in court.

“This case needs an urgent political fix. Julian does not have another decade of his life to wait for a legal fix,” she said.

“And it might be surprising to hear that from me, as a lawyer, that the solution is not a legal one. It is a political one.”

Stella Moris posed with her sons Gabriel and Max as she arrived to marry Mr Assange in March this year. (AP: Matt Dunham)

Ms Robinson pointed to comments from Prime Minister Antony Albanese, made while he was in opposition prior to the election, that “enough is enough”.

“I don’t have sympathy for many of his actions but essentially I can’t see what is served by keeping him incarcerated,” Mr Albanese said last year.

Mark Dreyfus, with a 2GB microphone hovering close to his face, gestures with his left hand while talking to reporters.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus says Australia will be engaging in quiet diplomacy over the case.(ABC News: Marco Catalano)

Last week at the National Press Club Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus was also asked about Mr Assange’s case.

“It has gone on long enough. But we’re not going to conduct our representations to the government of the United States in public,” he said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been contacted for comment. 

Wife ‘waits for phone call she dreads’

WikiLeaks first rose to prominence after publishing Collateral Murder, a video showing a US army helicopter attack in 2007 that killed a dozen people in Baghdad, including two Reuters news employees.

Mr Assange was indicted on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse related to the publication of hundreds of thousands of military and diplomatic documents, which were leaked by Chelsea Manning.

A grainy black and white still image.
A still from Collateral Murder, which revealed the actions of US soldiers during a helicopter attack in Iraq.(Lateline)

US prosecutors argue Mr Assange illegally helped Manning steal classified cables and that publishing the files put lives at risk, but journalism organisations and human rights groups have said the case is politically motivated and that his work has exposed wrongdoing in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Ms Robinson said his ongoing imprisonment was causing both him and his family suffering.

“Julian’s wife, Stella, who speaks so eloquently on his behalf now that he can’t, anxiously waits for the phone call that she dreads,” Ms Robinson said.

Julian Assange greets supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Julian Assange spent years holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.(AP: Frank Augstein)

She said it was “heartbreaking” that his two small children, aged three and five, had to queue at Belmarsh prison and be patted down before being allowed to see him — something they were not able to do for six months due to COVID restrictions.

“When they were finally allowed into the prison, ongoing prison restrictions meant that he wasn’t allowed to touch his children or even give them a cuddle. Try explaining that to your kids when you haven’t seen them for six months.”

Ms Robinson said the case set a dangerous precedent for journalists and free speech. 

She said criticisms that Mr Assange was “not a journalist” were redundant because he was engaged in journalistic activity. 

In response to claims that WikiLeaks’ publications helped Russia and harmed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, she said “a judge in New York said that those publications had the highest order of protection under the First Amendment”. 

Julian Assange looks to the camera as he is photographed from behind glass with graffiti etched into it. His grey hair is back.
Jennifer Robinson said her client’s health had declined dramatically during his incarceration.(Reuters: Simon Dawson)

She also pointed to news reports that suggested the CIA allegedly had plans to send someone to London to kidnap and assassinate Mr Assange. 

“When the news broke, I thought, ‘Finally, this is the thing that will put the case to an end. This will be it.’ But no.”

The US report by Yahoo News said the plot was formed soon after March 2017, when WikiLeaks started publishing “Vault 7”, revealing top-secret documents about the CIA’s cyber weaponry.

Ms Robinson added that Mr Assange had been offered a “win-win” deal by a congressman representing former US president Donald Trump, who wanted Mr Assange to disclose his source for the WikiLeaks publications in the context of the 2016 US election in exchange for a pardon, or protection from extradition.

Mr Assange refused, Ms Robinson said.

Caroline Kennedy stands in front of flags.
Jennifer Robinson said she would welcome a dialogue with US ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy.(AAP: Lukas Coch)

She added that the government’s interventions for people like David Hicks and Kylie Moore-Gilbert “show what the Australian government can do when properly motivated”. 

She said she would love a sit-down meeting with the US ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy, and that she had invited her to the National Press Club address.

“We would welcome a dialogue with the United States government and we will continue to make the ask that we have asked publicly, which is it’s time to drop these charges and to respect the First Amendment of your own country.”

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