On Thursday, June 13, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid signed a US extradition request for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. This means that Assange will now have to undergo extradition proceedings that could result in him being tried and convicted under the Espionage Act in the US.
Secretary Javid said, “We’ve got a legitimate extension request, so I’ve signed it. But the final decision is now with the courts.”
The UK government explains that if the courts believe there is enough information for Assange’s arrest, they can issue a warrant against him.
“The court must be satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the conduct described in the request is an extradition offence,” said the government.
Following the arrest, a preliminary hearing is scheduled where the date for the extradition hearing is set. Assange appeared before the magistrate on Friday, June 14, via video because he was too ill to be present in person.
Assange’s extradition hearing will begin on February 25, 2020.
Why Julian Assange’s asylum ended
On April 11, the police arrested Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in the UK. Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno said he decided to withdraw asylum for Assange for allegedly misbehaving in the embassy.
Moreno said Assange was “hostile” and not following the embassy’s conduct rules. However, former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa suggested that Wikileaks releasing documents potentially incriminating Moreno had motivated the Ecuadorian President’s decision.
In the INA Papers leak, Wikileaks released material that showed Moreno’s brother had an offshore tax haven. This triggered an investigation into Moreno, as well.
After his arrest in London, Assange began serving a year-long sentence for breaking bail conditions set in the 2012 sexual assault case against him.
However, the US took this chance to slap 17 additional charges on Assange under the Espionage Act 2013. The US Department of Justice said it is requesting extradition for Assange for working with Chelsea Manning and releasing classified information that has now come to be known as the Iraq War Logs and Afghan War Diary.
Assange’s recent arrest and possible extradition to the US has triggered a conversation on journalistic freedom and free speech. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said that prosecuting Assange, a foreign national, sets a dangerous precedent, because it allows other countries to prosecute Americans.
Moreover, the ACLU said Trump’s move to extradite Assange is in violation of the right to free speech.
““This is an extraordinary escalation of the Trump administration’s attacks on journalism, and a direct assault on the First Amendment. It establishes a dangerous precedent that can be used to target all news organisations that hold the government accountable by publishing its secrets,” said the ACLU.
What is Assange facing?
A United Nations Special Rapporteur Nils Melzer, who visited Assange in the London prison, raised serious issues about the Wikileaks founder if extradited to the US.
“My most urgent concern is that, in the United States, Mr. Assange would be exposed to a real risk of serious violations of his human rights, including his freedom of expression, his right to a fair trial, and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” said Melzer.
He added that if Assange is convicted under the US’ new charges, he will essentially be imprisoned for life or face the death penalty if charged further. Melzer is also “gravely concerned” about the limited access Assange has to his legal team and case files, because it leaves him unprepared for his trial.
Melzer added that Assange is suffering from extreme stress, chronic anxiety, and psychological trauma.
“The evidence is overwhelming and clear,” Melzer said. “Mr. Assange has been deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture.”
A message from Down Under
Australian Senator Doug Cameron tweeted against the the US imposing the death penalty on Assange and called on the Australian government to provide support.
He said, “No matter what you think of Julian Assange, the possibility that he could face the death penalty in the USA is unacceptable. The government should intervene and provide high level political assistance and support. No Australian should face the possibility of the death penalty.”
However, even in Australia, journalists are now facing persecution.
On June 5, the police raided the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s offices with search warrants for reporters Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, and News Director Gaven Morris.
The raids were in connection with “allegations of publishing classified material” related to unlawful killings in Afghanistan by Australian forces.
The BBC, along with human rights and press freedom groups, spoke out against the police raid.
Support pours in
Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party US presidential candidate in 2012, also spoke in defence of Assange.
“The Assange case is a poster child of state persecution. Everyone journalist, activist & all who care about democracy should know about the massive propaganda & legal corruption to take Assane down. This is what tyranny looks like!”
Melzer has also appealed to the UK to not extradite Assange back to the US.
“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, demonise, and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law,” Melzer said.
If extradited to the US, Assange faces 175 years in prison. None of the current charges against him carry the death penalty. If extradited, Assange can appeal the decision in the high court.
Moreover, extradition from the UK is prohibited if the person in question faces the death penalty, “unless the Secretary of State gets adequate written assurance that the death penalty will not be imposed or, if imposed, will not be carried out.”
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius.