UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — British court began Monday to consider the US request to extradite the founder of the controversial WikiLeaks site Julian Assange, whom Washington accuses of spying for publishing classified information.
In a crowded hall inside the Woolwich Court (in south-east London) where journalists and supporters of Assange gathered, the 48-year-old Australian appeared calm and alert.
Dozens of his supporters, who gathered enthusiastically in front of the court building, are considered a hero of freedom of expression. Assange faces a 175-year prison sentence in the United States, which he is pursuing for cyber piracy and espionage charges.
He said during a previous hearing that he refuses “to submit to a extradition decision because of a journalist who has received many rewards and protected many people.”
Like Assange, his father John Shipton sees these pursuits as a major threat to press freedom. He denounced “the suppression of the press” and “the constant malice (practiced by) the authorities” toward his son, before the court session began. “This is what will happen to journalists (…) if Julia Assange’s political handover is achieved,” he said.
Assange, who is being held in the heavily-guarded Belmarsh prison, should appear throughout the week before the trial is postponed to 18 May. It will then resume over three weeks.
– Dead civilians –
Assange was initially charged with cyber-piracy charges, but the US court charged him with 17 new charges last May, under anti-espionage laws.
The United States accuses him, in particular, of putting hundreds of her sources at risk by posting in 2010 on WikiLeaks 250,000 diplomatic cables and 500,000 classified documents related to the activities of the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Among these documents is a video clip showing civilians killed by a US combat helicopter in Iraq in July 2007, including two journalists at Reuters.
But this blow, which made the Australian a hero of freedom of the press, was also subjected to criticism. In 2011, the five newspapers associated with the platform (among them “The New York Times” and “Le Monde”) condemned the publication of unedited documents that might put some sources at risk.
The British judiciary must determine whether his extradition request respects a number of legal standards, especially whether it is inconsistent or incompatible with human rights.
Assange was arrested in April 2019 at the Embassy of Ecuador, where he had taken refuge seven years ago. He was afraid of being extradited to the United States or Sweden, where he was being charged with rape. Assange denied this and the lawsuit against him was dropped.
– “psychological torture” –
During a final procedural session last Wednesday, the Assange defense team confirmed that US President Donald Trump offered the founder of WikiLeaks an amnesty if he confirmed that Russia was not involved in leaking data from an internal Democratic Party email. The White House immediately denied the information.
In a document prepared to defend him, his lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, confirmed that the proposal of the US President was submitted by former Republican Dana Rohrbacher “at the request of” the American President.
For his part, Rohrbacher emphasized that “when I spoke to Julian Assange, I told him that if he was able to give evidence to the party who provided him with email for the Democratic Party, I would invite President Trump to pardon him,” denying that he had made any offer on behalf of the American President.
In 2016, during a crucial phase of the campaign, WikiLeaks posted thousands of emails to the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s team that weakened the latter.
“In August 2017, the Trump administration tried to put Assange under pressure to say things that might be in the interests of the American president,” said Baltazar Garzon, coordinated lawyer for the Assange Defense Team.
There were many votes to denounce the treatment that Assange was receiving. In May, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Niels Miller, said that Assange showed “all the usual symptoms that come from prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and severe psychological trauma”.
According to his relatives, his health has improved recently.
Assange, who has the support of human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, plans to seek political asylum in France.
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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