The proposed extradition of journalist and whistle-blower Julian Assange from Britain to the United States is a threat both to those who expose the wrong-doing of America’s ruling élite, to free speech, and to journalism that challenges the rich and powerful. Thanks to Assange we know the about crimes of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Through the Wikileaks website, he made public a video showing American forces in Iraq shooting dead 18 civilians from a helicopter. He exposed American forces killing at least 195 civilians in Afghanistan. One incident was where they machine-gunned a bus.
For this, the Trump administration discussed assassinating Assange, when he had asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
Next week the High Court in London will hear an application from the American government to extradite Assange. In January a court hearing refused this. The Judge refused extradition because of the dangers to Assange’s health.
Next week’s hearing is an appeal against that refusal.
Despite extradition being rejected, Assange was refused bail. He has being kept in Belmarsh prison for two and a half years. Belmarsh is a high-security London prison, seen as Britain’s harshest.
Scandalously, the court has allowed the American authorities to widen the grounds on which they are seeking extradition. They have been allowed to add two further grounds. These relate to the evidence of an expert witness regarding Assange’s mental health. Granting the widening of grounds, a High Court judge said that it was unusual for an appelate court to reconsider evidence from an expert witness when it has been accepted by a lower court.
The case is even scandalous because there is no allegation Assange committed any offences while on American soil.
Assange is before a London court because British police arrested Assange in April 2019 after the Ecuadorean government bowed to pressure from the Trump administration and evicted him from their London embassy. He had been granted political asylum after Sweden applied for his extradition. Assange feared he would be passed on to America. He had been facing sexual assault charges, but Swedish prosecutors dropped the investigation and possible related charges.
Now, the Biden Administration has taken over from Trump in pushing for Assange’s extradition. It appears Biden is still about punishing those who expose the wrong-doings of American’s ruling class, and about restricting free speech. Under Biden as under Trump, we must protest to show that journalism cannot be a crime. Julian Assange should be immediately released and all charges against him dropped.