Facing an extradition request to the United States, Julian Assange's support of First Nations sovereignty results in a gesture of solidarity.
By
Jennifer Scherer

Source:
NITV News
13 Jun 2019 - 6:02 AM  UPDATED 13 Jun 2019 - 6:06 AM

It’s a little known exchange but in 2012, WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange was granted an Aboriginal Nations passport after he sought political asylum in London’s Ecuadorean Embassy.

Assange was the subject of an extradition request to Sweden where he faced sexual assault allegations as well as an extradition request to the United States.

The American request entails 18 charges, most of which relate to him obtaining and publishing classified information through his website WikiLeaks.  

While Assange’s lawyers described a letter from then Attorney-General Nicola Roxon as an “Australian declaration of abandonment,” Assange’s father John Shipton held a new gesture of support in his hands.

The yellow document emblazoned with the Aboriginal Flag was presented by the Indigenous Social Justice Association at a passport ceremony held on the land of the Cadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation.

In a statement made at the time by the Indigenous Social Justice Association in conjunction with the Support Assange and WikiLeaks Coalition, the passport was issued due to “the total lack of support by our Federal Government to assist Julian … for informing the world’s people of the absolute lies that all governments continue to tell their people.”

“It recognises that Assange’s Australian passport has been completely worthless to him.”

Solidarity

For Assange’s father, the Aboriginal Passport was a sign of solidarity.

"Australian governments of every colour are happy to abandon their citizens when they're in difficult situations overseas,” he told media in front of a red and black sign, painted with the words: ‘always was, always will be Aboriginal land’.

"Julian has always expressed the desire that the Aboriginal people of Australia be recognised as sovereign.”

But secretary of the Aboriginal Provisional Government Michael Mansell stresses that currently, there are two versions of the Aboriginal Passport.

“The Aboriginal Provisional Government issues the Aboriginal Passport only to Aboriginal people. There are other groups around who issue versions of a yellow passport … but it is not what people would normally call a passport for international travel or domestic identity purposes,” Mr Mansell told NITV News.

“The black passports with the Aboriginal flag on the front are the passports that are only available to Aboriginal people - and Julian Assange, as much as we support his position and our opposition to the United States, Sweden and Australia and what they are doing to him - would not be eligible for an Aboriginal Passport.”

The Tasmanian lawyer was part of the first group to trial the Aboriginal Passport, gaining access to Libya in 1988.

“We wanted something tangible so we had the Aboriginal passports made which at that stage were the yellow passports that have [since] been duplicated by the social justice groups in Sydney and elsewhere,” said Mr Mansell.

“The Libyans stamped those passports in acknowledgement of Aboriginal sovereignty.”

But the group encountered difficulty when they returned back to Australia.

“They were not going to let us back onto our own country without harassment.

“So we made the point to officials in Sydney that under international law, Australia is bound to follow the rules of International travel - and if they believe that we were illegal immigrants, they had to deport us to our country of origin, which of course, is Australia.”

Since then, the passport has been upgraded to the Australian Provisional Government’s current black coloured book, embossed in gold with the Aboriginal flag on the cover.

“Most Aboriginal people, especially younger people, are carrying the authentic Aboriginal passport as a sense of personal pride and domestic identity purposes,” said Mr Mansell.

“Very few use it to travel overseas, but those who do of course feel proud to be able to use it instead of the Australian passport.”

Message Stick

Despite this, President of the Sovereign Union and Leader of the Euahlayi Nation Ghillar Michael Anderson says the yellow passport presented to Assange could embody a modern era message stick “which gives you right of passage across country.”

“It’s consistent with our cultural norms because it’s associated with when people are invited to ceremonies or come to a location for ceremony,” Mr Anderson told NITV News.

“They normally send ahead of time someone from their own tribe with a message stick.

“I understand that Murrumu from the Yidindji travelled across to London and met with Julian Assange … and it was at that time that they exchanged a relationship.

In 2012, Murrumu Walubara Yidindji, the former Canberra correspondent for NITV News spoke with Assange from London’s Ecuadorian Embassy.

“There was a bit of buzz about getting that first interview,” Mr Yidindji told NITV News.

“Julian had a number of international media outlets ready to interview him but I said to him: wouldn’t it be far greater that you give your first interview to the First Peoples of the continent they call Australia.”

During the interview, Assange expressed his views on Aboriginal sovereignty.

“I would go beyond that,” Assange said.

“Aboriginal populations should strive towards what the Palestinians have been doing - they should strive toward statehood.”

Independent court

Mr Yidindji says he doesn’t support, criticise or condemn the actions of Julian Assange.

 “I think like most Indigenous people around the world, there is a struggle – a struggle for the truth and I think he was very much in the thick of it,” he told NITV News.

”Now he is in the biggest battle of his life and I think that’s why, whether you agree with him or not, he’s standing up and having a go, and that’s what a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can appreciate.”

As Foreign affairs and Trade Minister for the Yidindji Government, Mr Yidindji says his government is seriously considering the possibility of offering a Yidindji  passport and documentation to Assange.

“But what I would suggest would be better, is the Yidindji Nations offer to actually hold an independent court on our territory to deal with his particular matter," said Mr Yidindji.

Citing a conflict of interest, Mr Yidindji says this would add an extra layer of jurisprudence to Assange's case.

“At the moment Great Britain, the United States and Sweden all have treaties with each other, so there’s not really any independence, from my point of view," said Mr Yidindji.

“There needs to be an independent peace court separate to the UN member states that can truly be impartial.

"We would be happy to host any particular court in the interest of peace and security of the planet and in particular for Julian’s case – that’s one thing that we can offer.”

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