Stop the extradition of Julian Assange

19th June 2022

Protesters oppose the extradition

Yesterday (18th June) was a tricky day for newspaper headline writers.  What to go with? The economy continues to go downhill; rail strikes look set to proceed next week; Boris Johnson had left the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs in the lurch in Doncaster, to fly off to Kyiv for a photo opportunity with  Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Johnson made the front page in the FT Weekend and Daily Express but the economy tended to dominate.

Big wage increases too risky, bosses told, made it for The Times.

We must not bow to strikers, says Treasury, was the call from The Daily Telegraph.

Public tell Johnson: Act now to help UK economy, was the i weekend call.

Rate rises send global stocks diving, alarmed the FT Weekend.

The Guardian went with Schools, pools and libraries face massive cuts, drawing attention to the potential local government crisis looming from next April, as inflation bites into already tight Council budgets.

Only the Morning Star went with the headline, A Dark Day for Justice, highlighting the decision of Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to extradite journalist and WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, to the United States where he will face charges of espionage for exposing US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange spent seven years of imposed exile in the Embassy of Ecuador in London, after which he was arrested by British police in 2019 when Ecuador withdrew his asylum status. Since then, Assange has spent nearly three years in Belmarsh prison, fighting a lengthy battle against extradition.  The Home Office said the courts found extradition would not be “incompatible with his human rights” and that while in the US “he will be treated appropriately”.

“The UK courts have not found that it would be oppressive, unjust or an abuse of process to extradite Mr Assange,” the Home Office added.

Given that Assange’s alleged ‘crime’ is to have exposed documents revealing how the US military had killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents during the war in Afghanistan, and that leaked Iraq war files showed 66,000 civilians had been killed, and prisoners tortured, by Iraqi forces, it is shuddering to think what the US may regard as “appropriate” treatment.  The leak in 2010 included 250,000 US diplomatic cables containing classified diplomatic analysis from world leaders.

Amnesty International said enabling the extradition of Assange to take place “would put him at great risk and sends a chilling message to journalists”.  General Secretary, Agnes Callamard added, “Diplomatic assurances provided by the US that Assange will not be kept in solitary confinement cannot be taken on face value given previous history.”

Assange now has 14 days in which to appeal and WikiLeaks has released a statement saying it will appeal the decision stating,

“Today is not the end of the fight.  It is only the beginning of a new legal battle. We will appeal through the legal system; the next appeal will be before the high court.”

Beyond that there is already talk of a further appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The implications of Assange being convicted in the US, given that he has committed no crime are profound, especially for investigative journalists and whistleblowers.   In effect, any journalist seeking information that governments do not want to disclose for reasons that have little to do with “national security” could be indicted and prosecuted under the criminal law.  This could apply to any government and any journalist. Assange, is Australian, not an American citizen, yet may face extradition and trial in the US.

In an interview with Nils Melzer, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, published on 31st January 2020, Melzer states,

 “In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic states ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonize and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law.”

The ‘democratic states’ in question being the US, the UK, Australia, Sweden and, latterly, Ecuador.

That the Assange case is not getting the coverage in the UK press that it deserves is a scandal in itself.  Given the implications that the extradition and any outcome in the US, should it get that far, would have for investigative journalism, outrage from journalists across the spectrum should be the minimum response.

The National Union of Journalists have taken a clear position of support for Assange with General Secretary, Michelle Stanistreet condemning the decision of Priti Patel, stating,

“Any journalist who is handed a classified US document, or is contacted by a whistleblower to expose criminality and wrongdoing will now fear that they too will be extradited, and put at risk of spending the rest of their lives in prison.”

The International Federation of Journalists has described the decision as “vindictive and a real blow to press freedom.”

In France where parliamentary elections are taking place over the weekend, Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the left-wing La France Insoumise, told a press briefing,

“If I am Prime Minister on Monday Julian Assange will be made a naturalised French citizen and given a medal.”

The real ‘crime’ which Assange has committed is to expose the realities of imperialist engagement in foreign wars where the manipulation and suppression of information is the norm.  WikiLeaks exposed the reality of that in Iraq and Afghanistan but similar tactics continue to be employed in relation to Libya, Syria and especially at present in Ukraine.  The misinformation campaign around the war in Ukraine may be the biggest the West has yet undertaken, given the ubiquity of social as well as traditional forms of media.

Preventing the extradition of Assange would at least indicate that resistance to such manipulation will continue and, with enough pressure, at least send a message to imperialist powers engaged in conflicts that any cover ups they attempt, will eventually be found out.  

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