Imprisoned journalist Julian Assange is currently appealing the UK government’s decision to extradite him to the US to stand trial for his reporting. So, to ensure that the pressure is kept up on politicians and lawmakers to stop his removal, a campaign group is going surround the UK parliament with a human chain.
On 17 June, [former] home secretary Priti Patel gave her approval to a court ruling to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the US. He will face 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act and one of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.
In response, Assange filed his appeal. As campaign group Don’t Extradite Assange (DEA) wrote, the grounds include the fact that Assange “is being prosecuted and punished for his political opinions” and “for protected speech”. The appeal also says the extradition request “violates the US-UK Extradition Treaty and international law because it is for political offences”. It is unclear when the High Court will hear that appeal.
DEA has organised a protest outside parliament on Saturday 8 October. Supporters of Assange will form a “human chain” surrounding the UK’s centre of so-called democracy. DEA wrote that:
the chain of support… will go from the front of parliament over Westminster bridge, along the south bank of the Thames and back over Lambeth bridge.
As of 12pm on Tuesday 4 October, over 3,700 people had said they would join DEA’s human chain. You can sign up to attend here.
Prominent supporters of DEA include groups like Amnesty and Reporters Without Borders; individuals and academics including Noam Chomsky, Edward Snowden and Oliver Stone, and politicians like US senator Bernie Sanders, UK MP Jeremy Corbyn and potential Brazilian president Lula da Silva. Rapper, academic and activist Lowkey tweeted that he would be at 8 October’s demo:
DEA is also crowdfunding to keep its activities going. You can donate here – it certainly needs all the support it can get because the situation for Assange is looking desperate.
Assange is being sought by the current US administration for publishing US government documents which exposed war crimes and human rights abuses. The politically motivated charges represent an unprecedented attack on press freedom and the public’s right to know – seeking to criminalise basic journalistic activity.
If convicted… Assange faces a sentence of 175 years, likely to be spent in isolation which would drive him to commit suicide.
UK District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America and refused to extradite him, yet the case eventually moved to the UK Supreme Court where it overruled the decision and Assange’s extradition request moved forward to the UK Home Secretary.
Meanwhile, the UK National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has published a supportive article on its website. Tim Dawson wrote:
Assange’s conviction would place journalists the world over in similar jeopardy. Who in future would report on a classified US document when it might result in a lifetime of medieval-style incarceration?
He concluded that: Criminalising investigative journalism enables every other kind of repression.
Governments criminalising any kind of honest and truthful journalism is both a political decision and a gross abuse of human rights. As Stella summed up:
Julian is fighting for his life – his life depends on not being extradited to the United States. This is a political case, it can be stopped here and it must be stopped here. So on the 8th of October, come to London to show your solidarity, come help free Julian Assange.
Britain’s Supreme Court had days before approved his extradition to Sweden to be questioned over sexual assault allegations, for which he was never charged. The case was dropped in 2019 after a review of the evidence.
This obscure embassy in London had barely garnered a single line in the news media in its history. But over the next seven years it would become a global story involving assassination plots, industrial levels of surveillance and finally the British police forcibly evicting Assange in April 2019.
When Assange walked into the embassy, the president of Ecuador was Rafael Correa, a US-trained economist who had assumed power five years before in 2007. He was a key figure in the ‘pink tide’ of left-wing governments that took office across Latin America in the 2000s and would serve for a decade.
Correa is now living in Brussels after himself being granted political asylum to avoid persecution by Ecuador, the state he once headed.
In an ironic twist of fate, Correa and Assange, who has been in maximum-security Belmarsh prison for three and a half years, now share a lawyer as they both battle extradition. We are meeting at the offices of this lawyer. A giant Free Assange sign greets visitors at the entrance.
In a dark wood panelled room looking out onto the street, Correa tells me of that June day his foreign minister told him Assange had entered the embassy in London. ‘We started studying his case’, Correa says.
In August 2012 — ‘after two months of studying his dossier’ — Correa’s government granted Assange asylum to protect him from persecution by the US government for his journalistic activities.
‘There was not any possibility for him to have a fair process, that was not possible’, Correa says. ‘I refer to the United States, there was too much public pressure, government pressure, media pressure against him.’
OVER the next five years, his government would enter protracted negotiations with the British authorities, who had enacted a secret campaign, codenamed Operation Pelican, to get Assange out of the embassy. Correa is withering about the UK’s attitude to these negotiations.
‘They are historically an imperial power so they believe sometimes they continue with this power’, he says of the British. ‘Anyway, against us that doesn’t work. And, yes, they were very rude. They wanted to impose their laws, their criteria. And we didn’t accept that.’
He continues: ‘We have, as a sovereign country, the right to grant asylum to anybody without giving any explanation. But we gave an explanation because we considered the British, the American government, the Swedish government, but we didn’t have to do that.’
Correa says British pressure escalated soon after Assange entered the embassy.
‘There was a moment where the British authorities threatened us that they would enter our embassy’, Correa says. ‘But that was against international rights and absolutely illegal, but also silly… Why? Because they have many more embassies around the world than we do.’
He pauses. ‘So, if they gave to the world such a bad example, the worst consequences will be against them. Because later, without any pretext, any reason, anybody could enter, in any country, their embassies.’
Ironically, the British pressure was much more blunt than Correa was receiving from the Americans.
‘Frankly, I don’t remember the American government threatening us like the British government when they said that they can enter our embassy’, Correa says. ‘We didn’t receive from the American government, as long as I remember, any threat like this.’
With Assange granted asylum by a friendly country like Ecuador, he should have been allowed safe passage out of the United Kingdom.
‘Of course, the British are used to being obeyed, not to negotiate with a third-world country’, Correa says. ‘They tried to deal with us like a subordinate country.’
‘No possibility of fair process’
CORREA tells me he has only ever spoken to Assange once, when he was interviewed by him for ‘The Julian Assange Show’, a short-lived interview series mostly done before he went into the embassy.
‘I don’t know Julian Assange’, Correa tells me. ‘I have never talked to him on the telephone or met him in person. You want my honest personal position? I don’t agree with all the things that Julian Assange did, but that is irrelevant.’
He adds: ‘The main point here is that he didn’t have any possibility of having a fair legal process in the United States. So absolutely we had a sovereign right to grant Julian Assange political asylum.’
But Correa is not optimistic about the end goal of the Americans and British now they have their hands on him. ‘They want to kill him’, he says.
‘They are destroying him. They already destroyed him. My lawyer, and we are having this interview in my lawyer’s office in Brussels, well, he’s also Julian Assange’s lawyer and he can tell you that he’s absolutely destroyed as a human being. So, they already destroyed Julian Assange.’
‘What they want to do is make an example of Julian Assange: you can see what happened with someone who dared to reveal our secrets. But what secrets did Julian Assange reveal? War crimes. We have to thank him. Instead of that they are killing him.’
Will Assange ever be free again? I ask. ‘I am very pessimistic. I don’t think so. They want to make an example of Assange: you cannot pass these red lines, you cannot deal with us, you cannot reveal our crimes. That is the message.’