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Punished for Exposing War Crimes? U.K. Approves Assange Extradition to U.S., Faces 175 Years in Prison

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Image Credit: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

In a blow to press freedom, the United Kingdom has approved the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States to face espionage charges related to the publication of classified documents exposing U.S. war crimes. Home Secretary Priti Patel signed off on the transfer after the U.K. Supreme Court denied Assange’s appeals earlier this year, part of a years-long legal battle that rights groups have decried as an attack on journalism and free speech. Assange faces up to 175 years in prison if convicted for violations of the Espionage Act, and his case represents a “once-in-a-lifetime fight for press freedom,” says Gabriel Shipton, Assange’s half-brother.

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StoryMay 20, 2024British High Court Grants WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange the Right to Appeal U.S. Extradition
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel has approved the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States. Assange faces up to 175 years in prison here in the U.S. if convicted of violating the Espionage Act for publishing classified documents exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. WikiLeaks has announced Assange will appeal today’s ruling.

In a statement, WikiLeaks said, quote, “Julian did nothing wrong. He has committed no crime and is not a criminal. He is a journalist and a publisher, and he is being punished for doing his job,” unquote.

Just before we went to air today, Assange’s wife, Stella Moris, spoke at a news conference addressing today’s ruling.

STELLA MORIS: The extradition order rests on a decision to reverse the initial outcome, a decision by the High Court to accept assurances, that are severely flawed, that the — Amnesty International called that decision a “travesty.” That is what this extradition order is resting on. We’re going to raise points that have come up since the original extradition hearing back in 2020. And crucially, one of the most important developments is the revelation that the CIA plotted to assassinate Julian while he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy and kidnap him and rendition him and was exploring poisoning him. This is known to the home secretary, but she signed it off anyway. But we will be raising it on appeal.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Julian Assange’s wife and attorney, Stella Moris.

We are now going here in New York City to Gabriel Shipton, filmmaker, Julian Assange’s brother.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Gabriel. Can you respond first to the home secretary’s ruling?

GABRIEL SHIPTON: Well, this is — you know, this ruling just says, you know, the U.K. government agrees that a journalist, a publisher can be taken from the U.K., can be extradited from the U.K., solely for doing their job. So, this is a hugely dangerous precedent that’s been set in the U.K. for journalists and publishers there. This is a — just goes to show that this is a once-in-a-lifetime fight for press freedom, and it is inching closer — or, you know, this is coming to the U.S. The U.K government wants Julian extradited. The judiciary has ruled against Julian, in favor of the U.S. DOJ, to extradite Julian. So, I think people can no longer rely on the U.K. government or the U.K. judiciary to protect journalism, that people in the U.S.A. need to stand up for press freedoms and fight this case.

AMY GOODMAN: A group of more than 300 doctors from around the world are calling on Patel to block the extradition — of course, she chose not to — saying that he suffered a ministroke last October, his overall health is continuing to deteriorate. They write, “The extradition of a person with such compromised health, moreover, is medically and ethically unacceptable.” Can you talk about his condition right now? And will you appeal?

GABRIEL SHIPTON: So, yes, that’s right. Julian had a ministroke at the end of October. He has been detained in the U.K. one way or another for the last 12 years. If you can imagine what that is like, you know Julian hasn’t seen a blade of grass in 12 years. He has been in a maximum-security prison for the last three years. There’s this endless legal snakes and ladders that he is being put through.

And it is really — you know, he’s a gentle genius, a publisher. He’s not a violent criminal. He is not convicted of any crime. He’s an innocent man who’s being held in prison solely at the request of the U.S. DOJ. And this is really wearing him down. He has been worn down over these 12 years. The U.N. special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, found that he was suffering the effects of psychological torture. So, you know, it’s so sad to see Julian, the Julian that I know from years ago, and the Julian that I’ve seen in the prison in the past months.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of what it was that he released back in 2010, and has continued to release information over the years, even when he was, what, in political exile in the Ecuadorian Consulate in London?

GABRIEL SHIPTON: Yes, that’s right. And none of — so, he’s published evidence of war crimes, torture in Guantánamo Bay, government corruption, you know, even the “Collateral Murder” video that’s world famous. None of these — and it’s the publisher that is being punished in this situation. It’s none of the criminals, none of the people who have committed these crimes that there is much evidence for. It is the publisher in this situation that is receiving the punishment. The New York Times, Der Spiegel, Washington Post, The Guardian, they all published similar information, and none of them are facing the punishment that Julian is.

We are going to fight this ruling by Priti Patel. We have an opportunity to appeal — apply to appeal to the High Court in the U.K., and then to the European Court of Human Rights. So we’re going to fight this. But with this ruling, it’s saying the U.K. government, they want to move this forward. They want to extradite Julian to the U.S.A.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Gabriel, the issue of the United States assuring Britain if it extradites Julian, he would be able to serve any sentence imposed on him by a U.S. court in Australia, what does this mean, especially given the new administration in Australia, the new prime minister?

GABRIEL SHIPTON: Well, that’s a treaty obligation that’s available to everyone who’s convicted in the U.S.A. It sort of means nothing, because by the time Julian gets extradited to the U.S.A., you know, the court proceedings will be at least two years. If he appeals to the Supreme Court, we’re looking at an eight- to 10-year process. So, you know, if you add that onto the 12 years he’s already been detained, that’s 20 years that Julian has had no freedom whatsoever, three of those years in a maximum-security prison. So, that is —

AMY GOODMAN: But it is interesting what the new Australian prime minister has had in the past — Albanese. Can you tell us?

GABRIEL SHIPTON: Yeah. So, Anthony Albanese has — in opposition, he’s said, “Enough is enough,” in regard to Julian being kept in prison. He said, “I don’t see what purpose is served by keeping Julian in prison.” That was before the election. Asked after he was elected as prime minister if he stood by those statements, and he said foreign policy — “Not all foreign policy is conducted with a bullhorn.” So, that is a very significant departure from previous government statements, where they’ve said this is a matter for the U.K. courts. You know, Julian is receiving consular assistance now. Anthony Albanese has signaled that this is a foreign policy issue. And by saying that it’s not — foreign policy is not conducted with a bullhorn, it suggests that there are some negotiations happening behind closed doors.

So, you know, Julian is very popular in Australia. There was a poll in December, and 70% — it was in the national newspaper, 71% of those polled agreed with the statement that Julian should be brought home. So, the new prime minister has to represent the will of the people in Australia. And overwhelmingly, people in Australia want this to come to a close.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us, Gabriel Shipton, filmmaker and Julian Assange’s brother.

Next up, we’re going to the highlights from Thursday’s hearing on the House select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection. Stay with us.

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