By Renju Jose
SYDNEY (Reuters) – A cross-party delegation of Australian lawmakers will travel to the United States this month seeking the release of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, his support group said on Tuesday, ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in October.
The group will urge U.S. officials to drop their attempts to extradite Assange from a British prison to the United States, where he is wanted on charges over WikiLeaks’ release of confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic cables.
The delegation will include former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and lawmakers from the Labor government, opposition and the Greens party.
Assange’s brother and Chair of the Assange Campaign organisation, Gabriel Shipton, said the vast majority of Australians did not understand why the U.S. continued to demand his extradition.
“Australians see the U.S. as our closest ally … but right now, Julian is being held hostage by a vengeful U.S. administration and it’s damaging U.S.-Australian relations,” he said in a statement.
The Australian delegation will meet with members of the Congress and Senate, officials at the State and Justice departments, and think-tanks including the American Civil Liberties Union and Reporters Without Borders.
Assange’s supporters say he has been victimised because he exposed U.S. wrongdoing, including in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington says the release of the secret documents put lives in danger.
Albanese in May said he was frustrated that a diplomatic solution had not been reached to end Assange’s detention, and that he remained concerned about Assange’s mental health.
Support for Assange among U.S. policymakers remains low. Only a few members of Congress have come forward in support of the demand to drop charges against him.
If extradited, Assange faces a sentence of up to 175 years in a maximum-security prison.
(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney; Editing by Stephen Coates)