Julian Assange seems to be feeling the iron hand of the law ever since his arrest and is being tossed around by lawmakers as the decision to extradite him to the US is brewing. For seven years, he was under asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy, where he had sought protection after being chased by the Swedish authorities for a sexual assault case which was later dropped. Assange was then evicted from the embassy after a quarrel with the officials and arrested. He has been inside a cell at Belmarsh prison in southeast London since 2019. The US had requested that Assange be extradited to face espionage and hacking charges, but in January 2021, the request was turned down in UK court.
Assange, an Australian editor, publisher, and activist, came into the spotlight after founding WikiLeaks in 2006. WikiLeaks is an international non-profit organization released under Sunshine Press, specializing in publishing news leaks and classified media gathered from anonymous sources. It did not take long for the website to get huge attention because of its objective: to release ‘secretive’ information that other people swore never to tell another soul. It released about 10 million documents in the first 10 years of operating. During this milestone achievement, Assange was regarded as both the founder and director [Source].
In 2010, WikiLeaks drew all the attention on a global scale after publishing a series of leaks provided by US Army Intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning [Source]. These secret documents contained the ‘Baghdad airstrike Collateral Murder’ video from April 2010, the Afghanistan war logs in July 2010, Iraq war logs in October 2010, and Cablegate from November 2010. Such an act against the US is unforgivable because the military operations and security services intel are among the most valued information in the US, so leaking it is a threat to national security. The US government decided to take legal action against WikiLeaks and launched a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks’s operations and leadership board. Assange believes that they were gunning for him specifically.
A British judge had made the ruling that WikiLeaks’s founder Assange cannot be extradited to the US to face charges. As a follow-up to January’s rejection of the US request to extradite him, permission was granted this week to appeal against the previous rejection of the extradition suggestion. The presiding judge at the hearing, Vanessa Baraitser, alluded to the doctor’s report on his health, and the medical reports depicted him as a ‘depressed’ and ‘despairing’ man who is fearing for his life if moved to the US prison system. She further explained that it would an oppressive act to sign on the US proposal to take him [Source]. Also, she was concerned about the US prison system, especially given the magnitude of his accusations. He will be placed in super-maximum security or in isolation, where he might commit suicide. Medical experts diagnosed him with ‘autism spectrum disorder,’ and it would be impossible to prevent suicide attempts if a prisoner is determined to take his own life.
The US legal team was quite determined to have him stand in court. The prosecutors accused him of collaborating with Chelsea Manning to hack and publish classified information that endangered various informants’ lives. The government would then have to carry the burden of any evil that befall informants and agents. Hence Assange had breached the US Espionage Act. In his defense, Assange denies working with Manning to decrypt passwords on US computers and argues that there is zero evidence that supports US claims. His legal team noted how the US government is trying to take him for political reasons. He publicly hung out their dirty laundry relating to war crimes and human rights abuse.
With recent developments, the prosecutors seem to be making progress in challenging Baraitser’s ruling at the Old Bailey and have filed a new proposal expected to persuade British courts to extradite Assange. Under this new proposal, it was assured that if Assange is found guilty, authorities will allow him to spend jail time in his native country Australia and not be placed in any ‘supermax’ prison or subject to special administrative measures’ given to high-security prisoners. These assurances are only bound to change if he undertakes any action that calls for high-security measures. Assange’s fiancé Stella Moris is against the extradition and believes that the US has a hidden agenda to keep her husband locked forever. She also cited how the US will drop all those assurances as soon as the CIA advises them. A legal practitioner Nick Vamos contends it is unusual for America to give such assurances of a prisoner’s treatment upfront. Americans boast of having a prison system that caters to prisoners of all forms. Vamos believes that if the US legal team convinces the court of Assange’s safety in relation to his medical condition, he will be extradited [Source].
Like CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden, some analysts have alluded to the suicide of John MacAfee and argued that if this case continues, then Assange might commit suicide to avoid extradition to the US. Snowden, who is self-exiled in Russia, believes the US court system is unfair and cruel to the extent of being loathed by its citizens who choose death rather than being subject to homeland prisons [Source]. Various appeals were filed in pursuit to get Assange freed on bail, but all was vain because he is seen as a flight risk by the courts. The courts argued that a man of his stature needs to be overseen by the law in a controlled environment as he has vast resources at his disposal.
The high court is expected to hear the proposal in relation to the US appeal, and Assange’s legal team, together with his fiancé, can only hope that the appeal is denied again, considering Assange’s health and safety.