Why supporting Julian Assange means defending freedom of information

On the 20th February 2020  Anthony Bellanger writes

John Shipton, Julian Assange’s indefatigable father, armed with a smile, stood tall at the Palais des Académies in Brussels on 29 January 2020, at a ceremony awarding four Academic Honoris Causa by the Belgian network of academics, Carta Academica. The event was organised in honour of whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden and journalists Sarah Harrison and Julian Assange, who “each in their own way, have put their freedom and even their lives at risk to defend press freedom, freedom of expression and our right to information”.

Speaking before an audience of human rights and freedoms defenders, the Wikileaks founder’s father tirelessly insists that his son is in prison for exposing crimes committed by others. “In my country, Australia, but also in Sweden, the United Kingdom or the United States, it is usually reprehensible to conceal the truth, especially when it is about crimes.”

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First hearing: Monday 24 February

On 24 February 2020, the first part of the hearing to decide on possible extradition to the United States will be opened for one week in the United Kingdom, before resuming for three weeks on Monday 18 May. “If Assange is extradited to the United States, he has no chance of a fair trial,” UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer told the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on 27 January. “Assange will be subjected to the same kind of summary justice as that seen in the United Kingdom a few months ago: a criminal trial, without any opportunity to prepare his defence. A summary hearing, of the kind we are seeing today in Turkey: 15 minutes, not one more. A quarter of an hour after entering the courtroom, Julian Assange was convicted, and even called ‘narcissistic’ by the judge.” Melzer was able to visit Assange in prison on 9 May 2019 and came away convinced that the case was highly politicised.

In his report for the United Nations, the special rapporteur describes the treatment received by Assange as “psychological torture”, after seven difficult years in the embassy. He said that there was no justification for having held Assange in virtual isolation for the nine months up until January of this year, recalling that, beyond 15 days, prolonged isolation is considered to be psychological torture.

The UK government refrained from answering the awkward questions posed by the UN special rapporteur, just as it remained silent when the Council of Europe questioned it following the publication of an alert issued by the International and the European Federation of Journalists on the Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists, denouncing the arbitrary and disproportionate detention regime imposed on Julian Assange.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, representing 47 member states, stated in a resolution issued on 28 January regarding threats to media freedom and journalists’ security, that “the detention and criminal prosecution of Mr Julian Assange sets a dangerous precedent for journalists” and urged member states to “prevent any misuse of different laws or provisions which may impact on media freedom – such as those on defamation, anti-terrorism, national security, public order, hate speech, blasphemy or memory laws – which are too often applied to intimidate and silence journalists”.

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Read whole article in Equal Times