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Politics before principles on Assange

Politics before principles on Assange

Leading legal groups have slammed the Australian government for failing to do more to stop Julian Assange being extradited to Sweden.The Australian lawyers Alliance (ALA) has accused the Federal…

Leading legal groups have slammed the Australian government for failing to do more to stop Julian Assange being extradited to Sweden.

The Australian lawyers Alliance (ALA) has accused the Federal Government of risking the lives of Australians by failing to assist citizens caught up in controversial arrest circumstances overseas.

"There is no doubt that Prime Minister Julia Gillard has made it easier for Swedish and United Kingdom authorities to arrest Julian Assange in what is a highly controversial case involving irregular, loosely worded rape laws and a trial behind closed doors," ALA director Greg Barns said.

Barns added that the decision of the London magistrates court to allow the extradition of Assange to Sweden, pending an expected appeal by Assange, has put the Wikileaks founder "one step closer to being tried in the United States for espionage charges that could carry the death penalty".

Barns said that the Gillard government had put political considerations - namely, its alliance with the US - ahead of the human rights of one of its citizens in the Assange case.

The fear that Julian Assange could eventually be extradited to the USA is one that is shared by the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights. Its president Stephen Keim said that while he was encouraged British authorities have said that United Kingdom consent would have to be granted if the United States sought Assange's extradition to Sweden, Australian authorities should have spoken up and expressed concerns about the process by which Assange could be extradited.

"Australia needs to make a strong statement that it has concerns about its citizens being subject to processes like the European arrest warrant which is patently unfair," Keim said.

"The European arrest warrant is the complete antithesis of fairness, justice and the rule of law."

Keim also shared the concerns of Barns that if Assange was charged and his case went to trial, the matter might be heard behind closed doors.

"From a common law environment, that is very curious," Keim said. "If I was to be tried anywhere in the world, I would like it to held in public."

Swedish authorities want to question Assange over three allegations of sexual assault and one of rape.

In Sweden, cases involving allegations of sexual offences can be heard behind closed doors if requested by authorities.

Barns has described the actions of Swedish authorities as being "extraordinary", with little regard for the rights of Assange.

He will be addressing members of the Senate and House of Representatives from all sides of the political spectrum about the Assange matter in Canberra tomorrow.

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