Friday, December 17, 2010

Gillard under pressure to explain WikiLeaks comments

Mr Assange was freed on bail by the High Court in
London overnight. (AFP: Adrian Dennis)
Prime Minister Julia Gillard is under renewed pressure over her initial response to the WikiLeaks controversy.

At one stage Ms Gillard labelled the actions of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange "illegal". It was later downgraded to "grossly irresponsible".

But today at a press conference in Sydney there was a slightly different tone after an investigation by the Australian Federal Police.

"The Government believed it was appropriate to refer the matter to the Australian Federal Police. We've done that now. We've received the advice and the advice is that there have been no breaches of Australian law," Ms Gillard said.

Ms Gillard says she only meant it was against the law to steal classified cables, not release them as the whistleblower website has done in recent weeks.

But Acting Opposition Leader Julie Bishop says Ms Gillard should admit she went beyond that.

"There is no room here for the Prime Minister to weasel out of it," she said.

Ms Bishop says Ms Gillard's comments were irresponsible.

"She is a lawyer. She well knows about the presumption of innocence," she said.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam says Ms Gillard must formally retract her comments.

"There's just some really important principles, not just fundamental legal principles, but obviously this gentleman has legal rights that should respected," he said.

"I think it's very, very awkward for the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General to be rushing to judgment before any charges have even been brought in relation to these matters."

Mr Assange, who is wanted for questioning on sexual assault charges in Sweden, was freed on bail by the High Court in London overnight.

He is now at a friend's country house in Suffolk, where he must live until the start of his extradition hearing on February 7.

Mr Assange has denied the Swedish charges against him and his legal team have said they are worried about the possibility of him being extradited to face possible espionage charges in the US.

He thanked his supporters and said the release of classified US cables would continue.

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