Update: Julian Assange Extradition Hearing – Monday 7 September
In less than a week Julian Assange will face an extradition hearing to the United States where he faces the sentence of 175 years in prison. The extradition request relates to the publication of documents which exposed war crimes and human rights abuses.
In the UK, WikiLeaks publications on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and US foreign policy were published in collaboration with The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, Channel 4 and the BBC. The activities for which Assange is being sought are indistinguishable from normal journalistic practices which were carried out by these UK publishers with regards to the same material.
Abuse and circumvention of legal process
Julian Assange is currently being held in HMP Belmarsh under the category of unconvicted prisoner. During his time at the prison, the UN rapporteur on Torture has concluded that Julian Assange was displaying all the symptoms typical of psychological torture. “Mr. Assange has been deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to persistent and progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture,” he said. Professor Melzer has also expressed extreme concern that if extradited to the US, Mr. Assange will be exposed to torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
Aside from the direct psychological abuse that Julian Assange has been subjected to and would be subjected to should he be extradited; he has also not had the opportunity of a fair trial to this point. When the United States originally indicted Julian Assange the Trump administration was given a deadline by Westminster Magistrates court of 14th June 2019 to finalise and submit any evidence to the court. However, in recent weeks, over a year after the deadline, the United States issued a superseding indictment. This would mean that Mr. Assange’s legal team have been working on arguments and evidence pertaining to an effectively defunct extradition request, entirely undermining Mr. Assange’s right to a fair and honest hearing by UK courts, which is scheduled to recommence on 7 September. The US has flagrantly disregarded the UK legal system, amounting to a complete abuse of process.
Press Freedom: Journalism is not a crime
The material that WikiLeaks published provided evidence of war crimes and state-sponsored killings, extraordinary rendition, and military cover-ups of unlawful killings. Julian Assange is a card-holding member of the Australian equivalent of the NUJ, UK courts have declared him to be a journalist and WikiLeaks as a media organisation. A politically motivated prosecution by the Trump administration means that Julian Assange is subject to an already prejudiced legal trial should he be extradited to the United States and will not be subject to First amendment protections.
Julian Assange’s extradition hearing is an attack on freedom of the press. The extradition of a journalist, with British children and a fiance residing in Britain has been heavily criticised. Massimo Moratti of Amnesty International stated that if Assange was extradited “Britain would be in breach of its obligations under international law”, Human Rights Watch have described the case as a “major threat to global media freedom in Britain” and the NUJ has stated that “US charges against Assange pose a huge threat, one that could criminalise the critical work of investigative journalists and their ability to protect their sources”.
Most recently, former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has described the case as “disturbing”, an affront to public interest journalism and that it would set an alarming precedent. “I fear that we may be in a situation now where any editor or reporter who tries to do national security reporting will be told that they have no public interest defence, the government will say what the public interest is, and not just the publishing but also the receiving of documents would mean that you could be arrested and charged. And so that means that a whole range of behaviour by the state then becomes unreportable and, again, if British journalists aren’t concentrating on that and the dangers of that then I think they should be,” he said.
If you are equally concerned about the apparent violations of human rights law which Julian Assange’s case highlights and the ramifications which it poses, the Don’t Extradite Assange Campaign would be happy to brief you on the case. Please contact Hamishc@thephagroup.com/07468588800.