Monday, December 13, 2010

Kevin Rudd defends Assange's rights and promises him a laptop

FOREIGN Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday mounted a strong defence of Julian Assange's legal rights as the WikiLeaks founder prepared to face court in London tomorrow night.

Mr Rudd said he was prepared to intervene to have a laptop computer provided for Mr Assange in London's Wandsworth prison to help the Australian prepare his defence and obtain bail at his appearance at Westminster Magistrates Court.

Following suggestions by Julia Gillard and Attorney-General Robert McClelland that Mr Assange may have his Australian passport cancelled, Mr Rudd said any such decision was his as Foreign Minister.

"Under law, I'm responsible for the Passports Act, therefore the decisions concerning the withdrawal or otherwise of passports rests exclusively with the foreign minister based on the advice of the relevant agencies," Mr Rudd told The Australian in Cairo.

The Prime Minister has said the latest WikiLeaks information dump was based on an illegal act.

Canberra has since said that was a reference to the original theft of the material by a junior US serviceman rather than any action by Mr Assange.

The government has asked the Australian Federal Police to investigate whether Mr Assange has broken the law, a process Mr McClelland said could take a long time.

Human Services Minister Tanya Plibersek told Sky News's Australian Agenda that the leaks were very serious and threatened the workings of international diplomacy and the quality of advice public servants were willing to give.

Mr McClelland said last week the government had considered cancelling Mr Assange's passport, but, in an interview in the Egyptian capital, Mr Rudd said he had received no such advice and that Mr Assange was entitled to all the support any Australian citizen overseas would receive.

"First of all, in Australia we are a nation of laws and therefore the normal procedures which apply to any such matter would be first of all obtain a report and recommendations from the AFP and other Australian judicial and regulatory authorities," he said.

"I am in receipt of no such advice at this stage, no such advice."

Mr Rudd said it was the position of the government that such a decision would be taken by him on the basis of advice consistent with all precedents from relevant police and other authorities.
"I have received no such intimation or suggestion from any other minister in the government that the processes should be anything other than that," he said.

Mr Assange has been moved to segregation for his own safety as he awaits tomorrow night's hearing on a Swedish request that he be extradited to face sex charges.

While British authorities are planning to give him limited internet access, Mr Rudd said no official request for a laptop had been received, but indicated that Australia would intervene to support any such request.

It comes as a minister in the Gillard government defended the push to charge Julian Assange for publishing secret UScables on his WikiLeaks website.
Human Services Minister Tanya Plibersek told Sky News' Australian Agenda the leaks were very serious and threatened the workings of international diplomacy and the quality of advice public servants were willing to give.

She broke ranks with some of her factional colleagues in the Labor Left, who told The Weekend Australian the government had overreacted to the leaks and should stop treating Mr Assange like a criminal.

Backbencher Laurie Ferguson said the information the 39-year-old Australian had released was crucial to democracy and to exposing the truth.

Ms Plibersek said yesterday that at the heart of the issue was the fact that the documents were classified and had been stolen.
Read more about Rudd defends Assange's rights at The Australian.


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