Criminalization, jail and judicial harassment: 12 years of persecution against Assange and freedom of expression

Another winter, another Christmas and that same cocktail of anger and uncertainty. 12 years ago, the journalist Julian Assange paid dearly for his professional commitment to information: on December 7, 2010, the person in charge of WikiLeaks was arrested for the first time in London. The ordeal is not over yet: in the coming days or weeks it will be known if his next destination will be a United States jailwhere they want to lock him up for life.

Assange will remember these 12 years in one of the toughest prisons in the UK. the jail of Belmashwhere today Assange and freedom of expression are imprisoned, earned the nickname “British Guantánamo” on its own merits.

“It is the most severe prison in the United Kingdom,” said the lawyer Stella MoresAssange’s wife, during an interview offered at the end of last June to Base. They got married in March of this year, when the journalist was already in prison. They have two children, ages 3 and 5, who grow up with their imprisoned father, whom they visit once a week after passing through the strict prison controls.

Today they are to visit him at Belmash High Security Prison, but it is not clear for how long. And that, precisely, terrifies them. On Assange – and also on her family – there is an extradition request made by the US, which wants to try him and imprison him for having published documents that proved the war crimes committed by US troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.

On the other side of the Atlantic, another prison awaits him, which will simply become his grave: if the plans of the US courts prosper, the founder of WikiLeaks could add up to 175 years of sentence. “Extradition means death for Julian,” Moris summed up in his speech last June in Base.

The accusations, still in force, were formulated by the Department of Justice of the Government of donald trump. Human rights organizations and journalist associations around the world have warned that if they go ahead, they would be a serious attack on the freedom of expressionalready curtailed by the fact that Assange was behind bars.

Last March, the UK Supreme Court gave the green light to the extradition request. Three months later, the British Government, through the then Home Secretary, Priti Patelconfirmed his willingness to hand Assange over to the US authorities.

Along the way there has been a mixture of contradictions, hopes and uncertainties. In the first instance of this extradition process, the British judge Vanessa Baraitser “refused extradition on the basis of the prison system that would await Assange in the United States,” he reminded Public Aitor Martinezlawyer for the director of WikiLeaks.

The markedly “oppressive” system in that country, coupled with Assange’s health, led Baraitser to the conclusion that his life would be in danger in case of being handed over to US authorities.

However, the judge’s decision was appealed by the US authorities before the high Court of Justice British, “granting, strikingly at the time, vague diplomatic guarantees that they would consider not imposing that prison system on him,” says Martínez.

The defense then provided “strong reports proving that the guarantees granted by the United States in the extradition processes with European countries were subsequently systematically violated when the person arrived in the United States jurisdiction”.

Martínez recalls that the appeal hearing before the Superior Court of Justice “was dramatic, mainly because Julian Assange he fainted and was left lying on the table in the prison from which he was trying to follow the view online”.

The Court understood that these guarantees were sufficient and revoked the previous ruling. Subsequently, the Super High Court of Justice “He did not even enter to assess those guarantees and denied the appeal”, leaving the path to extradition open.

Assange has appealed that ruling and has taken the case to court. European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) from Strasbourg. In the coming days or weeks, the result of the appeals made by the journalist’s defense in London will be known, something key to knowing what the outcome of this process will be.

“These charges against Assange should never have been made. We still have time for both the UK and US authorities to review their actions,” he says. Blanca HernandezAmnesty International spokesperson on the US.

In his opinion, “extradition would put Julian Assange’s human rights at risk, but it would also have much broader repercussions.” In this regard, he stressed that the extradition and subsequent conviction in that country “would be devastating for press freedom and for the rights of the citizenry”. “We must not forget that Assange published information of general interest, which is one of the foundations of press freedom,” he remarked.

michelle stanistreetgeneral secretary of the UK National Union of Journalists (NUJ) warns Public that the extradition of Assange “would imply serious consequences for any journalist who denounces irregularities committed by the United States government”, which would constitute “a dangerous precedent and an attack on freedom of expression”.

Judicial Calvary

The persecution against Assange has been written in several chapters that have included from accusations of sexual abuse in Sweden to a procedure under the espionage law In U.S.A. Throughout these 12 years, the journalist has faced a long and complex judicial process that even led him to take refuge for seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

In 2019, the Conservative Government of Lenin Moreno withdrew the support that its predecessor, Rafael Correa, had granted the journalist. In other words, Quito literally opened the door of its embassy in London to the British Police, who in April of that year accessed the diplomatic headquarters without any problems and took Assange, who also enjoys Ecuadorian citizenship. “Miserable hacker,” Moreno called him.

international solidarity

Imprisoned in London since then, the journalist has received continuous expressions of solidarity. Today Assange is a symbol of press freedom, and as such he is defended by personalities from all over the world. The latest signs of support have come from presidential palaces in Latin America: the governments of Gustavo Petro In colombia, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico and Lula da Silva in Brazil they have raised their voices against this injustice and have implored an end to the harassment.

“Every journalist has the right to protect their sources”

“All charges against him must be dropped,” said Stanistreet for his part from the NUJ headquarters in London. In October, members of that organization of journalists joined thousands of others in Westminster to demonstrate “against this relentless persecution by the US government.”

“Every journalist has the right to protect their sources and the authorities must now end this persecution for the sake of media freedom,” says the NUJ secretary general.

The truth is that prison has not silenced WikiLeaks, which during these years has maintained a firm line of denunciation of the atrocities perpetrated by the US in the name of “freedom”. Precisely for this reason, Assange may spend the rest of her life in prison. For the world today she is a symbol of freedom of expression. For her children, the father they visit once a week between severe security measures.

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