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If “Western values” have a meaning, Assange should be freed



“Free Julian Assange!” A dozen people have been shouting incessantly in front of the High Court in London as a two-day hearing on the WikiLeaks founder’s case has been taking place in the British capital since Tuesday. The 52-year-old faces extradition to the United States, a prison sentence of up to 175 years, and, at worst, even the death penalty. The Australian’s life is now in the hands of just two judges—Victoria Sharp and Justice Johnson, president of the King’s Bench Division.

Since yesterday, there has also been a white tent in front of St. Clement Danes Church, a few meters from the Victorian courthouse. A small stage has been set up in front of it. Many have come to London to demand Assange’s release, partly because there is more at stake than Assange’s life: there is also freedom of speech and investigative journalism.

“We are the Resistance!” shouts Davide Dormino from the stage, receiving applause from the now-drenched audience. The Italian artist first came into contact with the WikiLeaks disclosure platform more than a decade ago and has since also used his art to promote the Australian activist’s release. “Assange taught us that our imagination can influence reality,” Dormino told the Berliner Zeitung. “He imagined a different world to be improved, and with WikiLeaks, he allowed us to control our critical minds,” the Roman artist explained. It is the only weapon we have to defend ourselves.

On Tuesday, Assange’s defense attorneys, Edward Fitzgerald and Mark Summers, argued for about six hours in Courtroom 5. According to them, the entire trial is “politically motivated,” and therefore extradition to the United States would be illegal. The U.S. indictment under the Espionage Act, a law written during World War I, thus during a world war event, leaves no doubt. Once in the United States, Assange has no chance of a fair trial.

The extradition itself would be a violation of the 2003 extradition treaty between the United States and Britain, Fitzgerald said. The lawyer explained that there is clear evidence that the kidnapping and murder of the activist were also talked about in White House circles.

The lawyer was referring to a Yahoo News article that caused a stir in September 2021. Such plans emerged during the Trump administration under then-Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief Mike Pompeo. “This should be enough to bring the whole process down,” WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said in a speech shortly after the first day of hearings.

It is precisely political reasons, however, that may push toward extradition: the British government of Rishi Sunak is weak, so far showing minimal, almost nonexistent autonomy from the Biden government. When it separated from it, it was only because the U.S. president’s actions are conditioned by the Republican majority in the House, and therefore, on issues such as Ukraine or the Middle East, he cannot show a clear position.

A pure and simple matter of freedom

Julian Assange did not steal secrets; he published news passed to him by his informants, and it was serious news of public misconduct that caused many deaths or unspeakable abuses of power. Assange’s extradition would be a possibly fatal blow to free speech and what little serious journalism remains. Frankly, if the leak has caused the U.S. security apparatus, the fault lies with those who run that system, not Assage. The concept of the “wistleblower,” of those who internally expose the illegitimate behavior of superiors, is one of the foundations of democracy and must be protected.

One cannot make Navalny’s death in Russia heroic and extradite, then sentence, perhaps to death, Julian Assange. One cannot demand freedom of speech only when it is convenient. At some point, one must put aside the hypocrisy of certain Western governments and have the courage to stand up for the famous principles always, or these principles are worthless.

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