Richard Willingham, Dylan Welch
JULIAN ASSANGE has hired lawyers to investigate suing the Prime
Minister, Julia Gillard, for defamation over a claim that WikiLeaks
acted ''illegally'' in leaking about 250,000 US diplomatic cables.
In an interview from the Ecuadorean embassy in London, Mr
Assange said Ms Gillard's comment, made in late 2010, was used by
Mastercard Australia, which joined an online financial blockade of the
The White House and the Gillard government have condemned the
release since November 2010 of more than 250,000 classified US
''I absolutely condemn the placement of this information on
the WikiLeaks website. It's a grossly irresponsible thing to do, and an
illegal thing to do,'' Ms Gillard said several days after WikiLeaks
began releasing the cables.
The Australian activist group GetUp! recently interviewed Mr Assange
in his makeshift home inside the embassy, where he is staying as part of
a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for
questioning over sexual assault allegations.
He said he would be vulnerable to arrest in Sweden by the US
Justice Department, which is examining the possibility of charging
people associated with WikiLeaks with espionage.
Mr Assange said the group's work was stymied by Ms Gillard's comments.
''Mastercard Australia, in justifying why it has made a
blockade preventing any Australian Mastercard holder from donating to
Wikileaks, used that statement by Julia Gillard as justification,'' Mr
''So the effects of the statement are ongoing and they
directly affect the financial viability of WikiLeaks,'' Mr Assange said.
''We are considering suing for defamation. So I have hired lawyers in
Sydney and they are investigating the different ways in which we can sue
Gillard over that statement.''
Mr Assange said the comments were particularly damaging because they ''licensed'' other forms of attack on him and Wikileaks.
During the interview, Mr Assange also revealed the effects of
the past two years on his family, saying his young children have had to
move homes and change their names.
GetUp!'s national director, Sam McLean, said the interview
was the first step in a campaign calling on the Australian government
to seek a commitment from the US that it will not try to extradite Mr
Assange over his publishing work with WikiLeaks.
''For too long the Prime Minister and the foreign ministers
have put the interests of the US government ahead of Australian
citizens. That is not good enough,'' Mr McLean said.
''Our government must demand a binding agreement from the US
that they will not seek the extradition of this Australian citizen for
his work as a journalist and publisher.''
''GetUp! members expect the government to stand up for all Australians, even when it is not politically convenient.''