Australian lawmakers urge release of Julian Assange

STORY: A delegation of Australian lawmakers is in Washington seeking the release of WikiLeakes founder Julian Assange.

Australian Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said an initial meeting with the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday was productive.

[Peter Whish Wilson / Australian Senator]

“I'm not going to say much except to say that we feel like we had a fair hearing and we had productive discussions.”

The group urged U.S. officials to drop their attempts to extradite Assange, an Australian citizen, from a British prison to the United States, where he is wanted on charges over WikiLeaks' release of confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic cables.

David Shoebridge, a senator from the Australian Greens, said the cross-party delegation was representing the majority of Australians in seeking Assange’s release:

[Davis Shoebridge / Australian Senator]

“The only crime that we see that Julian Assange has been charged with is the crime of being a journalist, the crime of telling the truth, and the fact that it's an Australian citizen that has been targeted by one of our closest friends and allies is a very real concern to us as politicians and to a growing part of the Australian public. More than 85% of the Australian public, close to 90% of the Australian public say that Julian Assange should come home.”

Shoebridge said that without a solution, bilateral ties between the two countries would suffer.

Assange's supporters, a handful of whom gathered outside the Justice Department building, say he has been victimized because he exposed U.S. wrongdoing and potential crimes, including in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Washington maintains the release of the secret documents put lives in danger, and support for Assange among U.S. policymakers remains low.

If extradited, Assange faces a sentence of up to 175 years in a maximum-security prison.