So about this guy named Julian Assange – Does press freedom still exist?

If you ever spent more than a minute just browsing around on the internet, you’ve probably heard about a man called Julian Assange. He’s the most famous journalist in the world and he’s also a man who’s locked up in a high security prison in the United Kingdom. February 20 and 21 we witnessed the final attempt in court by Assange’s lawyers to try and prevent his extradition from the UK to the US to face espionage charges. In the United States he would face up to 175 years in prison. The judges did not immediately rule. This means that the 52 year old journalist may only receive clarity about what awaits him in a few weeks.

Assange has been trying for years to stay out of American hands. He spent about seven years in hiding in Ecuador’s British embassy until his arrest in 2019, after which he was sent to prison. If Assange loses this case, he could be extradited within weeks. Assange was not in court on Wednesday, nor watching remotely, because of his poor health condition, his lawyers said.

The big issue with all of this? Assange didn’t actually commit any crime. He is locked up because his website Wikileaks published documents that were leaked to them by whistleblowers. These documents proved to be direct evidence of war crimes committed by the United States in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Besides these documents, Wikileaks also published documents about the CIA spying on citizens. Obviously these were all documents with a huge impact on the media image the governments in the west tend to portray of themselves.

Assange’s supporters argue that the WikiLeaks founder should be freed on humanitarian grounds, on addition to upholding fundamental press freedoms. The 52-year-old has already spent seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy and since 2019, he has been in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison. Assange’s allies consider that his 11 years of imprisonment amount to punishment enough.

WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson called it “punishment through process”.”It is obviously a deliberate attempt to wear him down to punish him by taking this long,” Hrafnsson recently told reporters.

Jordan Higgins, of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom stated the case is not only a “critical juncture” for the future of press freedom. “It is also one of utmost importance for the well being of Julian Assange himself who may face life in prison in the US should he be extradited.”

Former UK Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn spoke to Sky News outside court as the Julian Assange hearing concluded:

Corbyn stated:”That’s what a journalists job is, to hold those in power, elected politicians and everyone else to account, we have got to protect journalists”.

European parliament member Clare Daly made a powerful statement about the situation as well:

“What is being done to Julian Assange is not just about the persecution of one man. It’s about intimidating journalism. It is about squashing dissent and smothering the peace movement. It’s about silencing the voices of truth, the voices of freedom and the voices of resistance. People have come from all over the world to say we’re not going to let that happen.”

Andrew Wilkie, an Australian member of parliament attended the hearing:

Wilkie said he hoped that the Australian parliament’s call last week for Assange to be allowed to return to his homeland sent a strong message to the UK and US governments to end the legal fight.”This has gone on long enough,” he said.

The United Nations special rapporteur on torture urges UK authorities to halt extradition:

Alice Jill Edwards earlier this month called on the UK government to halt the possible extradition of Assange to the US, urging authorities to consider his appeal based on substantial fears that, if extradited, he would be at risk of treatment amounting to torture or other forms of ill-treatment or punishment.

“Julian Assange suffers from a long standing and recurrent depressive disorder. He is assessed as being at risk of committing suicide,” Edwards said. “If extradited, he could be detained in prolonged isolation while awaiting trial, or as an inmate. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 175 years in prison,” she added.

“The risk of being placed in prolonged solitary confinement, despite his precarious mental health status, and to receive a potentially disproportionate sentence raises questions as to whether Mr Assange’s extradition to the United States would be compatible with the United Kingdom’s international human rights obligations,” the UN special rapporteur continued, noting that the US government’s assurances of “humane treatment” were not a sufficient guarantee.

“Diplomatic assurances of humane treatment provided by the Government of the United States are not a sufficient guarantee to protect Mr Assange against such risk,” Edwards said. “They are not legally binding, are limited in their scope, and the person the assurances aim to protect may have no recourse if they are violated.”

“I call on the Government of the United Kingdom to carefully review Mr Assange’s extradition order with a view to ensuring full compliance with the absolute and non-derogable prohibition of refoulement to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and to take all the necessary measures to safeguard Mr Assange’s physical and mental health,” the expert also said.

Stella Assange addressed the massive crowd of supporters outside court:

Human rights lawyer and Assange’s wife, Stella Assange, has just spoken to the crowd gathered outside the High Court in London. She described the US case as “pathetic” and alleged that it was based on “lies”. What they’re trying to argue is that state secrets trump revealing state crimes. This is the balance they’re trying to shift. They want impunity, they don’t want to be scrutinised and journalism stands in the way,” she told the cheering supporters.

“In that courtroom, they’re having to make their position increasingly clear. They have to admit that what they’re doing is criminalising journalism. It’s criminalising the truth,” she said. “They are liars, they are criminals and they are persecuting the journalist who exposed them,” she added, calling her husband a “truthteller” and a “political prisoner”. “The world is watching these courts in how they deal with this case.”

Bro Tucker Carlson interviewed Stella Assange about the situation today:

Reporters Without Borders renews call to ‘free Assange now’:

The press freedom group has called on the US government to cease Assange’s “endless persecution” and drop the 13-year-old case.
“No one should face such treatment for publishing information in the public interest,” said Rebecca Vincent, the media watchdog’s director of campaigns, said. “It’s time to protect journalism, press freedom, and all of our right to know. It’s time to free Assange now.”

On that note, what is the alleged plot to kill or kidnap Julian Assange?

In September 2021, Yahoo News reported that CIA officials had drawn up options for former US President Donald Trump’s administration for dealing with Assange while he was holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London. They included assassinating or kidnapping him, it said. Stella Assange the following month said the media report was a game-changer in his fight against extradition from the UK to the US. “It shows the true nature, the true origins, the true criminality of the US actions against Julian,” she told reporters at the time.

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