An Australian MP has called for the extradition of countryman and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from the UK to the US to be dropped, saying: “He might be a rat bag, but he’s our rat bag.”
Liberal National Party MP George Christensen was speaking to journalists in central London on Tuesday ahead of the first day of the extradition hearing next week.
Assange is wanted in America to face 18 charges, including conspiring to commit computer intrusion, over the publication of US cables a decade ago.
He is accused of working with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of classified documents.
In a press conference with Assange supporters, Mr Christensen said the decision to press ahead with the extradition process threatened journalism, free speech and democracy.
He said: “I’m a conservative … I’m a big fan of (President Donald) Trump, big fan of Bojo (UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson), but I’m a bigger fan of a free press – they’re fundamentals of democracy – and they’re clearly under attack when it comes to the Julian Assange case.
“There’s a lot of Australians who think Julian Assange is a rat bag.
“But he’s our rat bag – he should be brought home.”
He added: “He’s an Australian citizen that a British court is deciding whether he should be extradited to another foreign country – there is something inherently wrong with that.
“If you’re really hacking, there is an issue.
“But when he’s simply receiving information, how can you commit that crime?
“He’s our guy. He’s an Aussie. What’s a foreign court doing trying to extradite him to a foreign nation?”
Assange’s legal team said his health has deteriorated hugely in the last 10 years, much of which was spent in the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London as he sought refuge against extradition to Sweden to face sex assault charges which he denied and were subsequently dropped.
But his condition has since improved, it was claimed.
Speaking after the press conference, Assange’s father John Shipton said: “His condition has improved, I saw him last week.
“They have a (fitness) schedule (at Belmarsh) – you could hardly say it’s fresh air.
“It’s four walls with a grille on the top and you can stand in the rain.”
Asked if his son’s treatment amounted to torture, Mr Shipton said: “Absolutely.”
He added: “The extradition ought to be immediately dropped.
“If that’s not done then the minister concerned can give me a ring and I’ll go out to the jail and pick up Julian as I have a home here, his uncle’s a British citizen, his nephew is a British citizen, his cousin is a British citizen, I have a home here, my other children are here – he has substantial support in the community so he can come home and fight his case from house arrest or bail.
“It’s no problem.”
It has also emerged that fellow inmates at the high-security Belmarsh Prison successfully lobbied for his release from solitary confinement.
Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, said: “I saw him 10 days ago.
“He has improved, thanks to the pressure from his legal team and the general public.
“Amazingly, actually, from other inmates in Belmarsh Prison who on three occasions have petitioned the governor to get him out of isolation.
“There is more humanity, actually, among hardened criminals in Belmarsh Prison than you will find outside.”
Assange is expected to appear at the extradition hearing in person, his lawyer Jennifer Robinson said, although it is not yet known if he will give evidence in person.
However, she added any decision would likely be appealed against by either side.
It comes as a group of 117 doctors and psychologists called for an end to what it calls “the psychological torture and medical neglect” of Assange.
In a 1,200-word letter published in the medical journal The Lancet, the Doctors For Assange group expresses concern over Assange’s fitness for the upcoming legal proceedings.