WikiLeaks Party under fire after meeting with al-Assad
Australia calls meeting that occurred in December "counter-productive"
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has condemned as "reckless" and "counterproductive" a WikiLeaks Party delegation which met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.
The delegation, which reportedly included WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's father John Shipton, met with al-Assad on December 23, according to a post on the Syrian president's Twitter feed.
The WikiLeaks Party, founded as part of Assange's failed campaign for election to Australia's parliament in September, is distinct from the whistleblowing group which has said it neither knew about or approved the meeting.
Bishop said the delegation's actions risked involving Australia in the Syrian conflict which has killed more than 130,000 people since it began in March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"It's an extraordinarily reckless thing for an organisation registered as a political party in Australia to try and insert itself in the appalling conflict in Syria for their own political ends," Bishop said, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported Wednesday.
"It's certainly counter-productive. It is not in support of the sanctions regime that Australia has in place, in fact it risks undermining the sanctions regime we have in place, and it risks aligning Australia with one side of the conflict in Syria, which is something we would not do."
The WikiLeaks Party website said the meeting was aimed at showing solidarity with the Syrian people and voicing opposition to western military intervention.
"The WikiLeaks Party was the first party in Australia to warn of the deadly consequences of any Western military intervention in Syria," it said in a Dec. 22 post on its website.
"It went further by questioning the credibility of the excuses of such intervention based on unsubstantiated reports of the Syrian Army's use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians."
"The same excuses", which turned out to be "no more than fabrications and lies" had been used to justify the U.S.-led war in Iraq, the party said.
Australia's opposition Labor Party had Tuesday also described the meeting as irresponsible.
"The al-Assad regime has been widely criticised and correctly criticised around the world," Labor lawmaker Chris Bowen said.
"For an Australian political party to think it's sensible to go and have discussions and try and provide some legitimacy, is something I think which they have to explain."