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Will the founder of Wikileaks - Julian Assange be extradited?

2024-02-20 09:15:00, Kosova & Bota CNA
Will the founder of Wikileaks - Julian Assange be extradited?
Julian Assange

1776 days. That's how many days Julian Assange has been in the British high-security Belmarsh prison, when this Tuesday (20.02.2024) the final hearing in the process for his extradition to the USA begins. Even before, the 52-year-old founder of the Wikileaks disclosure platform has not been free. He spent seven years locked up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, which had offered him asylum. According to the US prosecutor's office, he will be sentenced to another 175 years.

The hearing before the High Court in London examines the issue: has Assange already exhausted all legal remedies against his extradition to the US? Or can he continue to fight in the British courts?

If the Supreme Court of Justice clears the way for extradition, Assange could be charged and sentenced in the US under the so-called Espionage Act. This law came into force more than a hundred years ago to punish traitors and spies during the First World War. It has never been used against a journalist before. Accusation: theft and release of classified material from US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan along with whistleblower Chelsea Manning. This has also put the lives of American informants at risk, US authorities say. In 2010 the current US president and former vice president at the time, Joe Biden, called Assange a "high-tech terrorist".

However, Julian Assange is not responsible for the fact that unedited data was published. In 2010 Wikileaks collaborated with a coalition of major media organizations - The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and El País - to journalistically process the leaked information. The password protected data was published in a book by one of the journalists involved. Wikileaks released the data only when the information became available. The US government has yet to provide evidence that anyone was actually harmed by the release.

The US government is trying to strip Assange of his journalist status. It is said that he published a bunch of data without context and that he is a hacker. However, Assange has won numerous media awards. This does not matter to the US prosecution, the law on espionage does not distinguish between journalists and other persons.

The unadorned truth

However, the truth is that the Wikileaks releases were very uncomfortable for the US government. Hundreds of thousands of secret documents showed the world another, unadorned and bloody side of the actions of the US military. The side where war crimes were committed - and covered up - where the number of civilian casualties was significantly higher than the Pentagon's fancy figures.

However, publications that a living democracy must endure. At least that's what all major human rights, civil rights and journalism organizations think, from Amnesty International to the Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ and Reporters Without Borders. The two umbrella organizations, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), warned in a joint statement on February 14: "The continued persecution of Julian Assange threatens media freedom around the world." EFJ President Maja Sever is quoted as saying: "Journalists and their unions knew from the start that Julian Assange is being targeted because he performs tasks that are part of the daily work of many journalists – to find a whistleblower and to to discover the criminality".

Support for Assange worldwide

There are more and more voices around the world speaking out against the persecution of Assange by the US and in favor of his release. A week before the trial, the Australian Parliament passed a resolution for the release of Australian citizen Assange, which was supported by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese; the Italian capital Rome declared Julian Assange an honorary citizen; A group of more than 35 American law professors wrote in an open letter to US Attorney General Merick Garland that the prosecution of Assange threatens the First Amendment to the Constitution, which protects a free press and freedom of expression.

Christian Mihr also sees the matter in the same way. Amnesty International's Deputy Secretary General for Germany tells DW: "The Julian Assange case concerns fundamental issues of media freedom and human rights. Julian Assange is not guilty of any crime, Wikileaks has revealed violations of human rights human and this is not a crime.” Together with Reporters Without Borders, of which Mihr has been chairman for many years, Amnesty plans a demonstration in front of the US embassy in Berlin on the first day of the trial.

Critical voices in German politics

Even among German politicians there is criticism of the persecution of Julian Assange. The deputy of the Green party, Max Lucks, in a conversation with DW, calls Julian Assange a political prisoner. Lucks speaks clearly about the fact that the founder of Wikileaks has been held for almost five years in Belmarsh maximum security prison in harsh conditions of imprisonment and with the prospect of a possible extradition to the USA: "What is happening is torture. It is not there are rational reasons for keeping Mr. Assange imprisoned, there are political motives". Lucks shares this assessment with other well-known politicians and experts, such as the former UN special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, or the former minister German Foreigner Sigmar Gabriel.

Lucks is one of the initiators of an open letter to the British Parliament, in which more than 80 members of the Bundestag called for Assange's release two years ago. "Journalists should not be persecuted and punished for their work. Nowhere," the letter began. The signatories were "deeply concerned about the chilling effect Assange's extradition and conviction could have on press freedom and investigative journalism around the world." The MPs never received a reply to their letter.

Accusations: double standards

One of the signatories of the letter is Peter Heidt. Heidt is the human rights spokesperson for the parliamentary group of the FDP party. When Heidt, in his role, criticizes the lack of protection of human rights abroad, he is repeatedly countered by referring to the persecution of the founder of Wikileaks. And with the accusation that Germany and the West represent double standards. "That's what they tell you everywhere, you can talk to whoever you want", confirms his parliamentary experience in an interview with DW.

For years, Peter Heidt has ended his speeches in the Bundestag with the same sentence: "I am of the opinion that Julian Assange should be released immediately".

Parliamentarians Peter Heidt and Max Lucks are both members of the governing parties. But little has been heard from the government about Assange. Just a few weeks after the open letter in the summer of 2022, the Bundestag passed a resolution condemning the "political persecution" of the journalist as an attack on press freedom. In addition, the parliament called on the German government to work for the release and non-extradition of Assange in the US.

The German government "follows" the extradition process

Asked by DW, the government only stated that it follows the extradition process against Julian Assange and the public discussion about the case "carefully" and "constantly". On the ongoing process or the content of the confidential discussions with representatives of other governments, it "in principle does not comment", the German government wrote at the end of last year in response to a question from the parliamentary group Die Linke.

The German government's most extreme criticism of the process against Assange sounds like this statement by the spokesman of the Foreign Ministry at the federal press conference in early December: "We have a different concept of freedom of the press than what would be defined in the US. For us, the things that Mr. Assange has done would not be reprehensible."

The spokesperson also referred to the ongoing court process. And that help could also be requested from the European Court for Human Rights. For Assange this is a consolation, but a weak one: because he would remain in British custody, while the trial would drag on for many more years. After twelve years without freedom: Investigative journalist Günter Wallraff says: "He is playing with time. He is being given a death in installments"./DW

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