Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, hero to some, traitor to others, is set to fight what may be his last battle against being extradited from Britain to the United States. A hearing has been scheduled to take place at the High Courts in London on February 20-21. It will be presided over by a two-judge panel to reexamine the decision made by a judge last June that denied Assange’s appeal request to block extradition.
The 52-year-old Australian is facing multiple charges from U.S. officials including violation of the Espionage Act, receiving, possessing, and communicating classified US government information to the public and conspiring to commit computer intrusion. The gravity of these accusations are substantial. Should he be extradited to the United States, Assange would stand trial in Alexandria, Virginia, potentially facing a staggering sentence of up to 175 years in a maximum-security prison.
The charges date back to 2010, when a US Army intelligence analyst named Bradley Manning, who has since undergone sex reassignment surgery and now goes by the name Chelsea Manning, stole 750,000 pages worth of classified cables, videos, and documents from the Department of Defense and then sent it, the largest unauthorized leak of classified material in US history, unsolicited, to Wikileaks.
Assange, who founded Wikileaks in 2006 and served as its de-facto leader at the time, eventually made the judgment call to publish the material. It stands to note, however, that there was no evidence that he and Manning communicated or that he in any way directed or encouraged Manning’s actions.
Gabriel Shipton, the brother of Julian Assange, released a statement emphasizing the significance of the upcoming hearing, stating, "This hearing signals a crucial stage in Julian’s battle for justice and is the end of the line in the UK courts." Shipton continued, "This Christmas will be Julian's 5th in a UK prison. He has gone through years of uncertainty, his mental and physical health getting worse and worse. He should be able to come home to Australia with his children and get the support he needs. I urge the Prime Minister to pull out all the stops in his efforts to end Julian’s suffering. Bring Julian home."
The scheduling of the February hearing date follows a series of bipartisan endeavors undertaken by lawmakers in the United States and Julian Assange's native Australia, urging US officials to dismiss the charges against Assange and cease their extradition appeals.
Julian Assange became the first publisher to face charges under the Espionage Act. The case has sparked concerns among numerous press freedom organizations and Assange supporters, who argue the prosecution establishes a perilous precedent aimed at criminalizing the basic principles of journalism, while US prosecutors and critics contend Assange's WikiLeaks publication of classified material endangered the lives of US allies.
Last year, a collective of editors and publishers from US and European media outlets, The Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El País, penned a letter titled An Open Letter from Editors and Publishers: Publishing is Not a Crime pushing the US to drop the charges against Assange.
The controversial figure has been held at Belmarsh Prison in London since his removal from the Ecuadorian Embassy on April 11, 2019, which was prompted by his violation of bail conditions and marked a significant development in his ongoing legal saga. In an effort to evade extradition to Sweden, where he faced allegations of sexual assault, Assange had taken refuge at the embassy since 2012. His primary concern was the lack of assurances from Swedish authorities regarding his protection from potential extradition to the United States. The inquiries surrounding the allegations of sexual assault ultimately came to a close.
Stella Assange, the wife of the embroiled prisoner, said in a release, "The last four and a half years have taken the most considerable toll on Julian and his family, including our two young sons," commenting on the recent developments. "His mental health and physical state have deteriorated significantly," she continued. "With the myriad of evidence that has come to light since the original hearing in 2019, such as the violation of legal privilege and reports that senior US officials were involved in formulating assassination plots against my husband, there is no denying that a fair trial, let alone Julian's safety on US soil, is an impossibility were he to be extradited. The persecution of this innocent journalist and publisher must end."
Lawyers representing Julian Assange have recently submitted an application to the European Court of Human Rights. This legal move has the potential to impede his extradition to the United States.
In the wake of the recently announced hearing date, fervent supporters of Julian Assange have rallied together, calling for a large-scale protest to be held at the courthouse during the designated days of the proceedings.
The Obama administration decided not to indict Assange during his presidency and further went on to release Manning, who had been sentenced to 35 years imprisonment.
Former President Trump's Justice Department subsequently sought to indict Julian Assange under the Espionage Act, a move that has been upheld by the Biden administration.
Assange receives as much condemnation as he does praise.
Tucker Carlson, who has described Assange as "one of the greatest journalists of our age, who has spent his adult life bringing previously concealed facts to the public about what our leaders are doing,” recently released an interview he had with Assange.
Carlson also sat down with Roseanne Barr to talk about some of the scarier moments Assange has dealt with as his wife has spoken about publically.
As the New Year rings its way around the world, the polarizing Julian Assange edges finally closer to justice. But in the case of Julian Assange, justice means many things depending on who you talk to.
A hero to some, a traitor to others, Assange stands ready to meet his fate in 2024.
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