Julian Assange extradition case: Stella Assange, supporters decry politics behind case

WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange faces up to 175 years in prison; supporters claim he was a ‘political prisoner’

Updated - May 15, 2024 11:17 pm IST

Published - May 15, 2024 10:10 pm IST - LONDON

Stella Assange, the wife of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, arrives for a media briefing ahead of his extradition hearing in London, Britain, May 15, 2024.

Stella Assange, the wife of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, arrives for a media briefing ahead of his extradition hearing in London, Britain, May 15, 2024. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Days before a U.K. High Court hearing on whether WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange will be allowed to appeal his extradition to the United States, his wife, Stella, and other supporters, decried the role politics had played in the case.

Mr. Assange, 52, is being charged on 18 counts, 17 of which involve the violation of the U.S.’ Espionage Act, for publishing sensitive diplomatic and military cables. He faces up to 175 years in prison.

Stella Assange speaks about her husband and WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange’s mental health. | Video Credit: Sriram Lakshman

“Julian is just one decision away from being extradited,” Ms. Assange told reporters at a briefing organised by the Foreign Press Association on May 15. It was “bizzare”, Ms. Assange said, that the U.S. had been allowed multiple opportunities to amend its case. “It seems like they’re given endless chances to change their case,” she said.

The case is rigged against Julian,” WikiLeaks Editor in Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said, adding that Mr. Assange was a “political prisoner”.

In March, the High Court had said that Mr. Assange would be allowed to appeal his extradition if the U.S. failed to provide assurances that he would not face the death penalty and that Mr. Assange, an Australian (i.e., a non-U.S. citizen), could rely on the U.S.’ First Amendment (i.e., free speech) rights during his defence.

In April, it was reported that the U.S. had provided an assurance that the death penalty will not be sought or imposed in Mr Assange’s case. The U.S. also said Mr. Assange “will have the ability to raise and seek to rely upon” the First Amendment, but whether those rights applied to him as an Australian, would be entirely a matter for U.S. courts to decide. This has been a central concern for Mr. Assange’s lawyers.

“That is a non assurance, it doesn’t provide any assurance whatsoever,” Jennifer Robinson, part of Mr. Assange’s legal team, told reporters on Wednesday. Ms. Robinson, who addressed journalists virtually from Australia, said that there was case law in the U.S. which said foreign nationals cannot rely on First Amendment protections for acts committed outside the U.S. “The court should not accept these this diplomatic notes [ U.S. assurances] because it doesn’t respond to the assurances that they were seeking,” Ms. Assange said.

Australian PM has called for charges to be dropped against Mr. Assange

The Australian parliament , and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese have called for charges to be dropped against Mr. Assange and for him to be allowed to return to Australia. Mr. Biden said in April that his administration was “considering” the request.

On Wednesday, Ms. Assange said the Australian government’s request was “crucial” and could have a “decisive” impact on the case. Asked if a change in the U.K. government following the elections could change the outcome for Mr Assange, Ms Assange appeared to imply it could. “It’s all politics in this case,” she said.

Mr. Assange, who has been held at London’s Belmarsh Prison since 2019, is expected to appear at his hearing on Monday. If the court rules against him he could appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Ms Assange said that her husband’s mental health was of “extreme concern” and that his survival was at stake. She said he was at very serious risk of suicide.

(Assistance for overcoming suicidal thoughts is available on the State’s health helpline 104, Tele-MANAS 14416 and Sneha’s suicide prevention helpline 044-24640050. Helplines across the country can be accessed?here)

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