The Guardian • Issue #2005

Extradition “death sentence” for Assange

Photo: Alisdare Hickson (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The UK court has given its stamp of approval for WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange to be delivered into the hands of the United States’ justice system.

Supporters rallied outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court earlier in April, holding “Free Assange” banners. After what has been seven years of assiduous legal work, the court conducted a seven-minute hearing to hand down its conclusion. The chief magistrate Paul Goldspring said that the ultimate decision rests with UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel.

Home Secretary Patel calls herself a Thatcherite and is notorious for her socially conservative views. According to TheyWorkForYou, Patel’s voting record in parliament reveals that the MP has “generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights”. It’s likely that Patel will not spare Assange from the unjust and trumped-up espionage charges that await him across the Atlantic.

Members and associates of Reporters Without Borders (RWB) have called for Patel to meet with the organisation and discuss the implications this extradition would have on freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

“The undersigned organisations urge you to act in the interest of press freedom and journalism by refusing extradition and immediately releasing Mr Assange from prison, where he has remained on remand for three years despite the great risks posed to his mental and physical health,” the organisation’s letter to the Home Secretary stated.

“In the US, Mr Assange would face trial on 17 counts under the Espionage Act and one count under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which combined could see him imprisoned for up to 175 years.

“He is highly likely to be detained there in conditions of isolation or solitary confinement despite the US government’s assurances, which would severely exacerbate his risk of suicide.”

However, Reporters Without Borders petitioning Patel to hold a meeting on freedom of the press and freedom of speech is idealistic if a bit naïve. It is very unlikely that the Home Secretary will agree to meet them, let alone listen to what they have to say.

Members and associates of RWB wants these freedoms but what most journalists and bourgeois media outlets have trouble understanding is that these freedoms are never going to be achieved while the ruling class protects its interests, including the military industrial complex that Assange and those who leaked documents threatened. Time after time, journalists and whistle blowers have been silenced, or worse, by the US government and other corrupt capitalist systems, including here at home in Australia.

When the UK court’s ruling was announced, Deputy Director of the Foreign Ministry Information Department of China, Wang Wenbin called out the hypocrisies of the US government’s treatment and targeting of Assange.

“I noticed that some media questioned why the US insists on extraditing Assange if it is confident enough and doesn’t fear the revelation of truth?” Wenbin said.

“What happens to Assange shows that, for the US, he who exposes the so-called atrocities of other countries is a hero, but he who reveals the scandals of the US is a criminal. This is the true face of the US ‘freedom of speech and the press’.

“The extradition of Assange to the US can lay bare the hypocritical nature of the US government even better than the WikiLeaks revelations.”

Julian Assange is a high-profile case but not an isolated example of the US state suppressing those who reveal illegal activity committed by government agencies. Others also involved in WikiLeaks whistleblowing have been fiercely attacked and battered in retaliation.

Former United States Army soldier, Chelsea Manning helped leak approximately 750,000 classified military and diplomatic documents which were published between 2010 and 2011 on WikiLeaks. These included documents on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Julian Assange said that these documents exposed abuses of the US’ military and government. The US government argues that the leaks put lives in danger. An argument that neglects to mention that the US government didn’t particularly care about the lives of civilians that the US military destroyed through its war crimes in unjustified foreign interventions. These being carried out in the name of profit and imperialism.

After Chelsea Manning leaked these documents, she was imprisoned for seven years until her sentence was commuted by Barack Obama in 2016. In this time, Manning was subjected to intense scrutiny and bullying. In the prison system, Manning says that her civil rights as a transgender woman were denied. During her time as an inmate, she tried to take her own life twice. In 2016, she went on a hunger strike for five days in protest of how the US government and prison authorities had treated and bullied her.

Chelsea Manning’s experiences reflect the fears that Assange and his supporters hold. Julian Assange’s family have all expressed concerns over how he would be treated and that he would be at extreme risk of self-harm and of taking his own life.

Stella Assange née Moris continues to be vocal and very public in her support for her husband.

“Imprisoning a journalist because he exposed US war crimes is a PR problem for [Boris Johnson], the UK is trying to disappear him hoping their PR problem will go away. It won’t,” Stella Assange tweeted.

The two were married in high security UK prison, Belmarsh earlier in March. Aside from immediate family the two were allowed no other witnesses, including journalist friends.

“I am convinced that they fear that people will see Julian as a human being. Not a name, but a person. Their fear reveals that they want Julian to remain invisible to the public at all costs, even on his wedding day, and especially on his wedding day. For him to disappear from public consciousness,” Stella Assange wrote for the Guardian on her wedding day.

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