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Julian Assange’s fight against extradition to the USA is entering its final stages. Speaking to Index on Censorship, Assange’s wife Stella says that “this really is the endgame”.
Her concern that time is running out follows the June decision by British High Court judge Jonathan Swift that her husband’s case should not be allowed to go to appeal, a decision she calls extraordinary.
The USA has been seeking to extradite Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, to face charges relating to the leaking of hundreds of thousands of documents to international media in 2010 and 2011 about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, detainees in Guantanamo Bay and diplomatic cables. The documents had been sent to him by the US army whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
The story took a new twist when Assange, an Australian citizen, entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face rape and sexual assault allegations. Ecuador’s then president Rafael Correa granted him asylum. The Swedish cases were eventually dropped. In 2019, Assange was evicted by the Ecuadorian government.
It has since been revealed that Assange was illegally monitored while in the embassy and that senior CIA officials in the Trump administration discussed options to kidnap and even assassinate Assange.
After Assange’s arrest on leaving the embassy, purportedly for breaching his bail conditions, the US government began extradition proceedings.
In January 2021, district judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled against his extradition on the grounds that “the mental condition of Mr. Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America,” a decision that the US government appealed. That December 2021, the High Court ruled that Assange could be extradited after US authorities made assurances over how he would be treated in prison. In June 2022, the UK’s then home secretary Priti Patel approved the extradition.
Assange appealed to the High Court but Swift turned down the appeals saying it was “no more than an attempt to re-run the extensive arguments made to and rejected by the district judge”.
“Julian has only one option left now which is to ask two Court of Appeal judges to reconsider Swift’s decision,” said Stella Assange. “The good news, if you can call it that, is that this time the decision will not be issued behind closed doors. There will be a public hearing. If the two judges affirm Swift’s position, Julian will not be able to go to the Supreme Court. It will be the end of the road in the UK.”
The date of the public hearing is likely to be announced this week.
With time running out, Assange’s supporters have launched the Day X campaign to encourage supporters to protest at the hearing.
“On Day X, I am asking everyone who can to come to the High Court to support not only Julian but also press freedom and the public’s right to receive truthful information, which are being trampled on,” said Stella Assange.
If he is extradited, Assange faces charges under the Espionage Act, for which there is no public interest defence.
“The outcome is a foregone conclusion, particularly as the US has already argued before the British extradition judge that Julian will not ‘enjoy’ Constitutional protections for free speech under the First Amendment because he is not a US citizen and he was not in the US at the time of the receipt and publication of the information,” said Stella Assange.
Meanwhile, the Australian government is ramping up its efforts to get the US government to drop the extradition request. The current Australian government opposes his imprisonment, often citing the four and a half years he has been imprisoned to date without conviction. This week, it was revealed that 63 members of Australia’s House of Representatives and Senate had called on the US government to drop the extradition request. In a letter of support, the politicians said they were “resolutely of the view that the prosecution and incarceration of the Australian citizen Julian Assange must end”.
“Other Australian lawmakers cite the fact that he is accused of nothing other than acts of press freedom that are being recast as crimes (receiving, possessing and communicating information to the public). They also highlight that the source of said information, Chelsea Manning, is free whereas the publisher, Julian, remains imprisoned. There is a disconnect that sits very badly with the Australian temperament, where fairness matters a great deal,” said Stella Assange.
The US Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy has made comments on Assange’s case which have led to speculation that there may be scope for a plea deal. If so, this would be announced when the country’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese makes an official visit to the USA in late October. Some are suggesting that the comments may have been made to placate the Australian public, who are strongly supportive of the campaign to drop the extradition request.
“No offer has been made by the United States. Julian has won awards for his extraordinary contribution to journalism so if the United States government considers journalism to be a crime then he is guilty and has many more press and integrity awards to show it,” said Stella Assange.
With the US elections on the horizon, the window of opportunity is closing for Julian Assange and his supporters
“Under Biden, under the guise of continuing an initiated indictment, the administration has reached a new catastrophic low by creating a new normal by failing to undo the political prosecution of the previous administration and keeping a journalist imprisoned for years and years. Julian’s role in exposing corrupt and illegal practices committed by his jailers has lowered the bar for political prosecutions targeting the press the world over. There simply is no moral high ground anymore,” said Stella Assange.
She argues that her husband’s situation is used as justification by authoritarian regimes that imprison journalists.
“It is undeniable that the intrinsics of Julian’s case are so shocking it is something one would expect from the worst dictatorships. A thin patina of ‘process’ cannot obscure the fact that he is facing 175 years for groundbreaking journalism, that the only agencies who will decide on the conditions and degree of isolation that he will be held in if he is sent to a US prison, pre- and post-trial, are the same agencies that were elaborating plans to kill him while he had political asylum at the embassy, that is to say, the CIA,“ she said.
Despite the road rapidly running out, Stella Assange still feels that her husband can avoid extradition. She said:
“The fact that this is a political case gives me hope that individual agency, on the streets, through press freedom groups and those who have the ear and the conscience of those in power, will come together to end this. Julian needs to come home and all that needs to happen is for people to individually and collectively live up to our principles. A society cannot be free, open and democratic without a free press, and press freedom is incompatible with imprisoning Julian Assange.”
When the most distinguished former chair of Israel’s Supreme Court, the 86-year-old Holocaust survivor Aharon Barak, said that he would go before a “firing squad” if it would help prevent what he sees as an existential threat to his country’s democracy, it’s a safe bet he was talking about something momentous.
Barak’s January denunciation of the attempt by Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government to neuter the Court was just part of what has brought many tens of thousands of Israeli citizens out in unprecedented protests across the country. An impressive array of judicial, political, ex-military and intelligence leaders have warned that Netanyahu’s programme is leading Israel on a path akin to that of authoritarian governments like Hungary and Poland at best, and dictatorship and “fascism” at worst.
The coalition formed on 29 December is easily the most right wing in Israel’s history and includes in key Cabinet posts two religious and avowedly extreme and anti-Arab supremacists, Bezalal Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, both determined that Israel should annex the occupied West Bank. Their appointment adds a volatile new element to a conflict in which 14 Israelis and 70 Palestinians have been killed this year alone.
But it is the “reforms” to the Supreme Court drawn up by Netanyahu’s justice minister Yariv Levin which, opposed by an Israeli majority in opinion polls, have unleashed a wave of outrage on the streets. These include clauses heavily curbing judicial review, removing the criterion of “reasonableness” by which it can judge government decisions, for appointments of the Court to fall under the direct control of the government, and for judgements ruling that a government decision in unlawful or conflicts with semi-constitutional Basic Laws to be overruled by a simple majority in the Knesset (parliament).
The Court is hardly the “overmighty” bastion of liberalism depicted by its critics. Last year, for example, it approved the planned eviction of 1000 southern West Bank Palestinians from their homes purportedly to make way for an Israeli military firing zone. But it remains the last hope for individuals, Jewish or Arab, fighting against unjust decisions, whether legal or administrative. What’s more in Israel’s single parliamentary chamber system the Court is the only check and balance on the executive and the Knesset majority it invariably commands.
The changes to the Court should not be seen in isolation from other measures planned or already in various stages of enactment or proposal. These include allowing the death penalty – unused since the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann’s execution in 1962 – for Palestinian terrorists, and the power to deprive Arab—though not Jewish—terrorists of residency as well as citizenship. Fears of secular Israelis have been fuelled by calls from ultra-orthodox parties for an end to the ban on segregation of men and women at publicly funded events, while Smotrich has even called for the banning of Arab political parties, representing nearly 20% of the Israeli population. Already under way is a bill to curb the law officers’ power to declare the prime minister unfit to rule. Many Israelis also see the wider judicial reforms partly as an attempt by Netanyahu to escape the possible consequences of his ongoing trial on three corruption charges.
The Netanyahu coalition agreement provides for prohibitively high taxation of Israeli civil-society organisations, several defending Palestinian human rights, which draw funding from mainly European governments, including Britain’s. The measure will not mostly apply to the many right-wing, pro-government advocacy groups because they are mainly funded by rich individuals, especially in the USA.
There has not yet been any legislative attack on Israel’s still fairly vibrant press, albeit in a market dominated by the pro-Netanyahu freesheet Israel Hayom. But writing after the election last October Aluf Benn, editor of the liberal newspaper Haaretz, pointed out that existing legislation for ordering a state of emergency lays down powers for a press clampdown, and suggested that Netanyahu, Smotrich and Ben Gvir wanted a state “in which criticising the government or replacing it will only be a pipe dream.”
In a sense, however, the changes to the Supreme Court are the programme’s hinge, by severely weakening its right to strike down any of these or other measures because, say, they do not conform with the 1992 Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty. Indeed if so far vain attempts by Israel’s President Isaac Herzog fail to secure a compromise on the changes, and the government passes the Court legislation by the end of March as it intends, a major stand-off between it and the Court is in prospect, leaving much of Israel—perhaps even including senior Army figures—having to choose between its recognition of an elected government and its respect for the law as it has prevailed since the state’s foundation 75 years ago.
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The autumn issue of Index takes as its central theme the FIFA World Cup that will take place in Qatar in November and December 2022.
A country where human rights are constantly under threat, Qatar is under the spotlight and many are calling for a boycott of the tournament.
Index spoke to journalists, human rights activists and philosophers for the latest issue to understand their view on the tangled relationship between football and human rights. Is football really the beautiful game?[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”Up front”][vc_column_text]The Qatar conundrum, by Jemimah Steinfeld: The World Cup is throwing up questions.
The Index, by Mark Frary: The latest in the world of freedom of expression, with internet shutdowns and Salman Rushdie’s attack in the spotlight. Plus George M Johnson on being banned.[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”Features”][vc_column_text]An unholy war on speech, by Sarah Myers: A woman sits on death row in Pakistan. Her crime? Saying she was a prophet.
America’s coolest members club, by Olivia Sklenka: Meet the people fighting against the surge in book bans.[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”Special report: The beautiful game?”][vc_column_text]Victim of its own success? By Simon Barnes: Blame the populists, not the game.
The real game is politics, by Issa Sikiti da Silva: Is politics welcome on the pitch in Kenya?[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”Comment”][vc_column_text]Refereeing rights, by Julian Baggini: Why we shouldn’t expect footballers to hand out human rights red cards.
On reputation laundering, by Ruth Smeeth: Beware those who want to control their own narrative.[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”Culture”][vc_column_text]The soul of Sudan, by Stella Gaitano and Katie Dancey-Downs: What does it mean for deep-running connections when you’re forced to leave? Censored writer Stella Gaitano introduces a new translation of her work.
Away from the satanic, by Malise Ruthven: A leading expert on Salman Rushdie writes about an emerging liberalism in Islamic discourse.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Index on Censorship is seriously concerned about the latest developments in the Julian Assange case. It is deeply disappointing that Home Secretary Priti Patel has approved the extradition of the Wikileaks founder to the United States, where he will face charges under the Espionage Act.
Like Amnesty International, we believe extradition will put Assange at risk and have a chilling effect on journalism around the world. We do not believe he will face a fair trial in the United States given the hostile publicity around the case. His poor mental health puts him in danger of suicide.
Wikileaks published a series of leaked diplomatic cables in 2010 and 2011, which caused serious embarrassment to the United States government. These included the US army manual on the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and a video showing a helicopter attack on innocent civilians in Iraq. Julian Assange acted as a journalist and publisher in bringing these disclosures to public attention. He did so in collaboration with a number of mainstream, respected media organisations including the Guardian and the New York Times.
We call on the international journalistic community to support Assange in the next stage of his battle against extradition as he takes his case to appeal. If the US government succeeds in bringing espionage charges against Julian Assange it will have the potential effect of turning all journalists reporting on alleged US security abuses into spies.