April 17, 2024

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Within a few days, Julian Assange could be on a plane to the United States

Within a few days, Julian Assange could be on a plane to the United States

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange made a last-ditch effort this week to avoid extradition to the United States. Advocates for press freedom and human rights are closely watching the case at the British Supreme Court.

Pepin the Doll

What's at stake for Assange this week?

Since his arrest in 2019, Assange has been embroiled in legal proceedings. The gist, however, is clear: the United States wants the United Kingdom to extradite him to face trial for leaking classified government documents. Assange is doing everything he can to prevent that.

The case, which will be heard in London this week, appears to be the 52-year-old Australian's last chance to stay out of the hands of the Americans. In June last year, Britain's Supreme Court ruled that there was no legal basis to appeal Assange's extradition. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the judges will consider Assange's challenge to the decision.

His wife Stella fears that if the verdict goes against Assange, he could be on a plane to the US within days. In theory, Assange could still challenge his extradition at the European Court of Human Rights, but his legal advisers fear the British will not wait for that. In the US, Assange faces up to 175 years in prison.

Why do Americans want to try Assange?

All eighteen US indictments against Assange revolve around WikiLeaks. In 2010, Assange used the platform he founded to release hundreds of thousands of classified US government documents. According to US officials, Assange is guilty of espionage. His leak could endanger human lives.

These documents contain details of covert operations during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. An infamous release concerns video footage of a 2007 U.S. helicopter strike on the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. Eleven people were killed, including two journalists from the international news agency Reuters.

Why is there criticism of possible handover?

Assange and his supporters see his prosecution as an attack on press freedom. In their view, Assange is a journalist who does nothing but expose abuses. Journalists who cooperated with Assange's revelations have also been approached by the FBI, the US security service.

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson warns the case could have “serious consequences” for the work of journalists around the world. According to him, it was the first time the Americans used the Espionage Act against a journalist during the First World War. At a press conference last Thursday, he called Assange 'a canary in the coal mine'. Earlier, former CIA employee Edward Snowden was charged under the same law. Snowden later fled to Russia.

Assange's lawyers also argue that their client has no chance of a fair trial in the United States. Human rights organization Amnesty International has expressed fears that Assange is in a US prison He will be kept in isolation for a long time. The Australian government has called for a freeze on whistleblower prosecutions.

How is Assange's health?

Although Assange was officially arrested five years ago, he has been living as a prisoner since 2012. That year he went into hiding at the Ecuadorian consulate in London after being prosecuted for sexual abuse in Sweden. Assange feared England would extradite him to the Scandinavian country. Sweden has now dropped the charges.

During his stay at the embassy, ‚Äč‚ÄčAssange's health worsened. According to doctors treating him, Assange is struggling physically and mentally. After Ecuador revoked his political asylum in 2019, Assange was arrested by the British and held in a maximum security prison. At the end of 2021 he suffered a stroke. At an earlier inquest, doctors and psychologists concluded that Assange was depressed and suicidal.

Assange's wife Stella believes her husband should give his life to be extradited to the US. “Every day he's in jail, his life is in danger,” Stella said. “If he is deported, he will die.”

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