Media freedom

June 26, 2022

Rights groups express concern over planned extradition of Julian Assange to the United States

Media freedom


he British government has finally allowed the extradition of Australian journalist Julian Paul Assange to the United States of America following a verdict of the Supreme Court.

Reacting to the verdict, Home Secretary Priti Patel said, “He can still appeal the decision in 12 days.”

“Mr Assange’s case raised no legal question over assurance the United States had given to the United Kingdom about how he was likely to be treated,” the UK apex court stated in its decision.

Earlier on January 4, 2021, District Judge Vanessa Barrister had ruled against the US request for extradition and stated that doing so would be “oppressive”, raising concern over Assange’s mental health and risk of suicide. On December 10, the High Court in London ruled that Assange could be extradited to the US to face the charges. Julian Assange appeared in the SC against the ruling of the high court, but the court refused him permission to appeal.

In November 2010, Sweden had issued an international arrest warrant for Assange over allegations of sexual misconduct. Assange said the allegations were a pretext for his extradition from Sweden to the United States over his role in the publication of secret American documents.

Julian Assange will now have to face criminal charges as he is wanted by US authorities on 18 counts, including spying. US Justice Department has alleged that the material obtained endangered lives.

Interestingly, the Australian PM, Anthony Albanese, has rejected calls for him to publicly demand that the US drop the prosecution of Assange. The Australian local media had published its request to the new prime minister.

“There has been a noticeable shift in the Australian government’s handling of my husband’s case since the PM Albanese won the election. As a journalist and publisher, he is being punished for doing his job; he was being prosecuted for exposing war crimes and abuse of power,” Stella Assange, the wife of Julian Assange, said.

Assange is currently being held in Belmarsh Prison in London. He was arrested from Ecuadorian Embassy on April 11, 2019. Police were called by the embassy, and he was arrested and found guilty of breaching the Bail Act and sentenced to 50 weeks in prison.

The 53-year-old is an editor, journalist, publisher and activist. He founded WikiLeaks in 2006. WikiLeaks garnered international attention when it published leaks of Baghdad air strikes and Afghanistan and Iraq war logs in 2010. The strikes were led by US forces. The legal battle began in 2010 when WikiLeaks published 500,000 classified US documents about the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The documents revealed how the US military had killed civilians in unreported incidents during the war in Afghanistan. The Leaks showed that 66,000 civilians had been killed by Iraqi forces. Leaks published a series of documents revealing details of the CIA’s electronic surveillance and cyber warfare capabilities.

WikiLeaks also published confidential documents and released numerous troves of documents, known as data or information dumps, in its 15 years of being active.

Some of the most famous are 400,000 secret military reports relating to the war in Iraq and a further 90,000 on Afghanistan.

In 2010, the platform released the infamous Collateral Murder video, which shows soldiers in a US Apache helicopter killing a dozen people on the ground in Baghdad, including two Reuters journalists.

The legal team of Julian Assange claimed while commenting on the decision that documents published by WikiLeaks, which related to Iraq and Afghanistan wars, exposed US wrongdoing and were in the public interest. The legal team couldn’t get a hearing back before the judges in London, and they could petition the European Court of Human Rights.

Various segments of society have condemned Julian Assange’s extradition to the US. Amnesty International has said that enabling the extradition would put him at significant risk and send a chilling message to journalists. “Diplomatic assurance provided by the US that Assange will not be kept in solitary confinement cannot be taken on face value given the previous history.”

Former UK Government minister David Davis has said he does not believe Mr Assange would get a fair trial in the US.

Edward Snowden, the US spy who got refuge in Russia, said in his tweet: “Hard to believe, but it looks real. Every serious press freedom group in the world has protested this. It’s an appalling symbol of how far the British and American governments’ commitment to human rights has declined. How can we condemn authoritarian abuse abroad like this?”

Extradition allows one country to ask another to hand over a suspect to face trial. It helps nations cooperate in tracking criminals and makes it easier to send those criminals to face trials in the country where they committed their offence. In the UK, by law, parliament has banned the extradition of anyone from facing trial in a country with the death penalty unless the requesting nation has promised not to impose it. The suspect can, however, appeal against the extradition. The UK has previously blocked many extradition requests on human rights basis.

The writer is a correspondent for Geo News, daily Jang and    The News in London

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