Monday, January 4th, 2021
Will you be extradited to the USA?
Supporters fear Assange defeat
A decision will be made today in London on the US extradition request for Julian Assange. If convicted, the Wikileaks founder faces 175 years in prison. But although his side has the better arguments, his supporters fear an “arbitrary and malicious” treatment in court.
The walls around Her Majesty’s “Prison” HMP Belmarsh are as high as a two-story single-family house. There are surveillance cameras and spotlights wherever you look. Around 900 prisoners are held in the heavily secured institution in south-east London. They are the UK’s most notorious terrorists, murderers and sex criminals – and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
This Monday, before the Central Criminal Court in the British capital, a decision will be taken on the extradition of the 49-year-old to the United States, where he is charged with espionage, among other things. In America, if convicted, he faces a sentence of up to 175 years. The US judiciary has accused the native Australian of stealing and publishing secret material from US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan together with whistleblower Chelsea Manning – before the sex reassignment at that time, Bradley Manning. Assange put the lives of US informants in danger, is the allegation.
His supporters see him as an investigative journalist who has brought war crimes to light – for example, a video documented the killing of civilians by a US helicopter crew in Iraq. The Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei, ex-model Pamela Anderson and many other celebrities have already campaigned for Assange and visited him in prison. But visitors have not been received in Belmarsh since the outbreak of the corona pandemic.
“I haven’t seen him since March and have only seen his partner and family once since,” said Assange’s father, John Shipton. The 76-year-old has been traveling tirelessly around the world for years to promote the release of his son – including to Germany. He actually wanted to fly to the USA at the beginning of January to get in touch with the team of the future US President Joe Biden. But the coronavirus pandemic thwarted his plans. He cannot leave Australia at the moment.
“He deserves a pardon”
Shipton hopes that the Democrat Biden will give his son a pardon if he is extradited. After all, ex-President Barack Obama had released the whistleblower Chelsea Manning from prison. However, a few weeks before the US election in 2016, Wikileaks published hacked e-mails from the team of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton – who then lost the election to Donald Trump, caused renewed annoyance. Perhaps that is why there are now voices in the Republican Party who are in favor of pardon.
The former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, published a YouTube video a few days ago in which she pleaded for a pardon. “I support him,” she said. Palin wanted to be elected Vice President of the United States in 2008 alongside the late Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Wikileaks also published e-mails and photos of the arch-conservative politician at the time – she then compared Assange with the Islamist fundamentalists of the Taliban. Now she says: “I made a mistake.” Assange had done the world a favor by his work. “He deserves a pardon.”
Shipton is convinced that his son’s defense lawyers have the better arguments, but he fears a loss in court on January 4th. The reason for this is above all the “arbitrary and malicious” treatment of his son in the proceedings. During hearings in the court, Assange had to sit in a glass case, he could only communicate with his lawyers through a narrow crack. The judge rejected an application to have him take a seat next to his defense lawyers in the courtroom. Before he was brought into the courtroom, he was also subjected to humiliating body searches.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, also fears that Assange will not get a fair trial. “What we see is that the British are systematically depriving Julian Assange of his basic rights to prepare his defense, to have access to his lawyers and to legal documents,” he told Deutsche Welle. The Swiss is also critical of the ongoing isolation of Assange, which was initially ordered for health reasons and is now justified by the coronavirus pandemic. Assange has long been showing typical symptoms of victims of mental torture.
Is the USA making “an example”?
The organization Reporters Without Borders called for the immediate release of the 49-year-old. “This is where the future of journalism and freedom of the press worldwide is at stake,” said managing director Christian Mihr. He fears that the US wants to make “an example”.
After all, said his father, Assange can now call his partner regularly, even if only ten minutes per call. Assange has been in a relationship with lawyer Stella Morris since 2015, with whom he has two children. The relationship, which developed during a stay of more than six years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, remained hidden from the public for a long time. After the corona pandemic broke out, Morris went public on fear of his life in prison. Dozens of prisoners are said to be infected there. Assange had escaped to the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 for fear of extradition to Sweden and stayed there until his arrest in spring 2019. Investigations in Sweden into rape allegations were later dropped. UN expert Melzer had described it as “constructed”.
Whatever the verdict, the struggle for Assange’s fate is far from over. Both sides are expected to appeal if they lose.