Biden says he is ‘considering’ Australian call to drop Julian Assange charges

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Joe Biden said on Wednesday that he is considering a request from Australia to drop the decade-long US push to prosecute the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for publishing a trove of American classified documents.

For years, Australia has called on the US to drop its prosecution against Assange, an Australian citizen who has fought American extradition efforts from prison in the UK. Asked about the request on Wednesday, as he hosted the Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida, for an official visit, Biden said: “We’re considering it.”

Assange has been indicted on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of a trove of classified US documents almost 15 years ago. American prosecutors allege that Assange, 52, encouraged and helped the US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published, putting lives at risk.

Australia argues there is a disconnect between the US treatment of Assange and Manning. President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s 35-year sentence to seven years, which allowed her release in 2017.

Assange’s supporters say he is a journalist protected by the first amendment who exposed US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan that was in the public interest. Assange’s wife, Stella Assange, has said the WikiLeaks founder “is being persecuted because he exposed the true cost of war in human lives”. She has said his health continues to deteriorate in prison and she fears he will die behind bars.

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A British court ruled last month that Assange cannot be extradited to the United States on espionage charges unless US authorities guarantee he will not get the death penalty.


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