In 2019, the Trump administration charged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with 17 counts of espionage and one count of conspiracy. Assange created a website that gave whistleblowers a platform to hold international governments accountable for their crimes against humanity. WikiLeaks exposes authenticated, classified information, some of which included the Guantanamo Files, the Collateral Murder video, and nearly 400,000 field reports from the Iraq War. On May 1, 2019, the United Kingdom sentenced Assange to fifty weeks in jail for jumping bail. Trump seeks to extradite him from London to face 175 years in a US prison. Marjorie Cohn reported for Truthout how the extradition of Assange would signal the end of a free press.
The 2003 extradition treaty between the US and UK declared extraditions to be unlawful on the basis of “political offense.” This term itself does not have a concrete definition—however espionage is frequently associated with “offenses directed against state power.”
Because it functions as a platform for whistleblowing, WikiLeaks is inherently political.
Assange is also in peril of being tortured upon a successful extradition to the United States, Cohn wrote. Recalling that Chelsea Manning was tortured by being held in solitary confinement for 11 months, Cohn argued, “It is likely Assange would face a similar fate if he were extradited to the United States.” The Convention against Torture forbids extradition of people in imminent danger of being violently persecuted.
“The Trump administration singled out Assange to send a clear message to journalists that they publish material critical of U.S. policy at their peril,” according to Cohn. Previously, Chris Hedges has written that “the extradition of Assange would mean the end of journalistic investigations into the inner workings of power.”
Assange’s extradition hearings are scheduled to take place in late February. Though powerful forces are aligned against him, Cohn reported that a number of groups, including Veterans for Peace and the National Lawyers Guild have endorsed a petition that urges the judge to deny extradition because Assange is charged with a political offense. The petition asserts, “The essence of Assange’s ‘crime’ is that he published documents and videos which revealed the reality of US military and political actions.”
Source: Marjorie Cohn, “Extradition of Assange Would Set a Dangerous Precedent,” Truthout, February 17, 2020, https://truthout.org/articles/extradition-of-assange-would-set-a-dangerous-precedent/.
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