Britain on Monday starts hearing Washington’s extradition request for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a test case of media freedoms in the digital age and the limits of US justice.
A ruling against Assange in the case could see the 48-year-old Australian jailed for 175 years if convicted on all 17 US Espionage Act charges and one count of computer hacking he faces. Each stems from his site’s release in 2010 of a trove of classified State Department and Pentagon files detailing the realities of the US campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.One video from 2007 showed an Apache helicopter attack in which US soldiers gunned down two Reuters reporters and nine Iraqi civilians in broad daylight in Baghdad. The files also disclosed the secret identities of diplomats and government agents in hostile environments — as well as locals who risked their lives by cooperating with the United States. These names were redacted by the Western newspapers with which WikiLeaks initially worked.
But a falling out with their editors prompted Assange to release hundreds of thousands of files in their original form. The US Justice Department said last May that the ‘human resources’ compromised by Assange ‘included local Afghans and Iraqis, journalists, religious leaders, human rights advocates, and political dissidents from repressive regimes’.
His supporters argue that Assange’s prosecution was political — and personal — from the start. ‘For the sake of press freedom, Julian Assange must be defended,’ the Committee to Protect Journalists said in December.
The case was injected with still more intrigue when the defence claimed US President Donald Trump promised to issue a pardon if Assange denied Russia leaked the emails of his 2016 election rival’s campaign. ‘In August 2017, Donald Trump’s administration tried to pressure Julian Assange into saying things that would be favourable to President Trump himself,’ Assange’s defence team coordinator Baltasar Garzon said on Thursday.
‘When Julian Assange refused, he was charged and an extradition request was issued alongside an international arrest warrant.’—APP