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[LISTEN] Assange’s Extradition Appealed and the Double Standards of Whistleblowing Advocacy

Oct 31, 2021

Ebrahim Deen

Lawyers from the United States this week appealed a January 4 decision declining the extradition of Wikileaks founder Julien Assange to the US from the UK. Assange faces 18 charges under the espionage act in the US, for leaking thousands of classified documents detailing torture and war crimes during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Assange, who previously faced rape charges in Sweden, is currently in prison for skipping an earlier, 2012 bail hearing in the UK regarding the Swedish charges levied on him in 2010, after which he had been provided asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy until 2019. If convicted on the US charges, Assange will spend around 170 years in prison, including possible solitary confinement in a maximum-security institution.

The January 4 ruling found that this would greatly enhance his chances of committing suicide, and that his psychological condition did not warrant such. Washington has since tried to argue that he be allowed to serve his term at an Australian prison, and that the risk of suicide is less in the US, as compared to the UK. Further, the fact that he has 2 children, with a previous member of his legal team, means that he is less likely to commit suicide, according to them.

Speaking to Radio Islam International, Simon Crowther, senior legal expert at amnesty international reiterated the importance of this case for press freedom, saying, “This case is extremely important, not just for Julien Assange himself, but also for press freedom globally and the right to freedom of expression …. What this case will determine is whether or not the US is able to bring espionage charges against people whom it considers have published information that’s detrimental to their own national security.” Crowther argued that globally journalism does at times rely on the publishing of confidential information, and that journalists would now have to think twice before publishing anything were this case to succeed.

Further, he argued that pre-trial detention would likely mean solitary confinement, and that more charges could be levied against Assange, were he acquitted of these charges and even had he been found guilty and served his time. He said, “even if he were found guilty, after his release, again, this second series of contempt charges could land on his plate…  And what that means in practice is 22 hours a day of solitary confinement.”

Crowther also contrasted this with reporting around the so-called Panama and Pandora papers, arguing that these concerned financial crimes and not necessarily national security information. The case of prisoners such as Chelsea Manning, who was convicted on providing the information to Assange and has spent almost a decade in prison, supported this assertion.

Mr Assange’s team has since argued that no real deal has yet been concluded with Australia for Assange to be imprisoned there. Further, they argued that security was the main reason informing the non-disclosure of Assange’s children  by the initial psychiatrist report. This is especially in a context wherein the US government had mulled poisoning him, an accusation which was not denied  by the administration, and is alleged to have even paid the company providing security to the Ecuadorian embassy to obtain DNA samples from the diapers of one of the children as a means of establishing their paternity.

Assange’s case does elucidate the double standards in journalism globally; reportage of national secrets in the developing world is rewarded, while the same reportage is often maligned when it concerns global powers. Further, this is also the case when comparing Assange and Manning to other whistle-blowers such as Sergey Savelyev and Alexei Navalny. Moreover, it is especially contradictory and patronising when issues such as loss of lives is often appealed to in attempts to block reportage on national security information in relation to global powers, when the victims of this exercise of global power have no voice; many of these so call security sources and spies are themselves directly involved in enabling these human rights abuses and violations. Reputable organisations such as the UK’s Guardian have even been accused of such, especially in relation to gate keeping and blocking access to much of the Wikileaks files.

 

 

 

 

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