The extradition hearing of Julian Assange concluded on October 1, with the verdict likely to be pronounced in January next year. Assange, who has been under judicial custody since April 2019 when he was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy by the London police, will continue to be in prison till then. He faces 18 charges in the United States under the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. If extradited to the United States and convicted, he could be in jail for the rest of his life.
Assange is being punished for working with Chelsea Manning to release documents that exposed war crimes and atrocities by the US and its allies in Afghanistan and Iraq, and other similar documents.
Over the past several months, activists and world leaders have called for Assange’s release and condemned the US and British attempts at prosecuting him for publishing leaked documents. Earlier this year, a group of senior journalists released an open letter titled “Speak Up For Assange”, which has more than 1,500 signatures from around the world.
The letter stated that Assange’s case “stands at the heart of the principle of free speech. If the US government can prosecute Mr Assange for publishing classified documents, it may clear the way for governments to prosecute journalists anywhere, an alarming precedent for freedom of the press worldwide.”
The letter held the governments of the US, UK, Ecuador and Sweden responsible for contributing to the human rights violation that he has been subjected to.
Another letter was published last month by an umbrella group called “Lawyers for Assange”, receiving signatures from more than 180 advocates and 19 legal associations around the world. The letter addressed the illegality of the looming extradition – due to the political nature of the prosecution awaiting him in the US – and the torture he has undergone while in prison.
The letter also cited the report by UN special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, that demonstrated Assange showing clinical signs of a victim of psychological torture. The signatories and the endorsers of the open letter echoed the testimonies of several expert witnesses presented before the court by the defense team.
The letter also received endorsements from several political leaders, mostly from Latin America. Prominent among them are former Brazilian presidents, Luis Inacio Lula Da Silva and Dimla Roussef, Argentine vice-president Cristina Kirchner, former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, Argentine president Alberto Fernandez and Argentine Nobel Peace laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel, among others.
Apart from having endorsed these letters, Lula da Silva and Perez Esquivel have also called for Assange’s release individually on different platforms, hailing the impact of the work of Assange and WikiLeaks.
In his open letter to the media, Lula sought to remind the world and the people of Brazil of the role Assange played in exposing the corrupt and criminal practices of those in power.
“Brazilians owe an additional debt to Assange. Files published on his WikiLeaks page revealed conversations that took place in 2009 between those who would later be in the Temer administration – which in 2016 deposed the Dilma government – and top officials in the Department of State about questions related to the privatization of Brazil’s deepwater oil deposits.
“It was through reading the documents revealed by Assange that Brazilians learned of the relationship between the man who would later be minister of foreign affairs in the Temer administration, José Serra, and executives in the North American oil giants ExxonMobile and Chevron.
“The risks that Assange will be extradited, however, are real. No one who believes in democracy can allow someone who provided such an important contribution to the cause of liberty to be punished for doing so. Assange, I repeat, is a champion of democracy and should be released immediately.”
In an interview with Prensa Latina, Adolfo Perez Esquivel echoed Lula’s call to remember Assange’s role in exposing the war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Nobel Laureate, like many supporters of Assange, also characterized the extradition as a possible death sentence, as he could end up being jailed for the rest of his life. “We must raise our voice in the world to save Assange’s life and respect his physical integrity,” he said.
In Assange’s home country, Australia, a parliamentary group consisting of opposition and the ruling party legislators has been calling for his release and return back home. Recent revelations during the trial, especially the spying on Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy and the alleged plans by the US intelligence to either kidnap or poison him, have only strengthened the call for Assange’s return.
George Christensen, a legislator from the ruling conservative bloc and co-chair of the pro-Assange parliamentary group, told the media that the “latest revelations show a foreign power tried to use illegal means to harm an Australian citizen. It’s not on. I think the latest revelations are deserving of a formal protest by the Australian government. If any security firm plotted or attempted to undertake illegal action against an Australian then perhaps criminal charges should be laid.”
This article was first published in Peoples Dispatch.