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Reporters Without Borders Denied Entry to Visit Assange in U.K. Prison; No NGO Has Seen Him in 4 Years

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has spent the last four years locked up at the Belmarsh high-security prison in London, where he has been fighting extradition to the United States on espionage charges. He faces up to 175 years in prison if convicted. This week, amid growing concerns about Assange’s health, Reporters Without Borders attempted to become the first NGO to visit with Assange since his arrest four years ago. Despite being given approval, RSF representatives, including our guest, RSF secretary-general and executive director Christophe Deloire, were denied entry.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Christophe, I wanted to go to you, actually, outside Belmarsh. You planned to be inside but were denied. On Tuesday, your group, Reporters Without Borders, RSF, attempted to become the first NGO to visit Julian Assange since his arrest four years ago. Despite being given prior approval, you were denied entry. This is you outside the jail.

CHRISTOPHE DELOIRE: We take the opportunity of being here today, again, in front of this jail, to call on for his release. Julian Assange has made a big, a very important, a crucial contribution to journalism. He made possible the revelations of war crimes. He should enjoy the First Amendment.

AMY GOODMAN: Joining Reporters Without Borders was Julian Assange’s wife, Stella Moris, who also spoke outside the prison.

STELLA ASSANGE: It is another instance of this completely unjustified interference with Julian’s ability to try to conduct a political and also a legal defense against the U.S. — outrageous U.S. case against him. It’s the 4th of April today. Tomorrow will be 13 years since the release of the “Collateral Murder” video, revealing the killing of 12 civilians, including two Reuters bureau workers. We are now about a week away from the four-year anniversary of Julian being inside Belmarsh prison. Julian’s presence in this prison is a scandal. It is a scandal on every level. How is it that they can prevent him from meeting with the secretary-general and the global campaigns director of Reporters Without Borders? This is a shameful act.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Christophe Deloire, if you could talk about that? You’ve said that this is only one of a series of obstacles that you’ve encountered right from the outset in dealing with this case. If you could explain what exactly has been happening and what you hope will happen now? Will you attempt another meeting soon?

CHRISTOPHE DELOIRE: So, what happened is that in the past years we requested to be able to visit Julian in his jail. We got an approval recently, which was confirmed on March 21st with a number, an official number, for myself and my colleague, Rebecca Vincent, and we were invited to come to the prison.

And when we just arrived, the guy at the desk, when he saw my passport, he suddenly was very stressed, and that taking a paper on his office — on his desk, and that read it, saying, “According to Article” — I do not remember the number of the article, but according to this article, “you are not allowed to visit Julian Assange. This is a decision that has been made by the governor of the Belmarsh prison, based on intelligence that we had” — I quote him — “that you are journalists.”

And it doesn’t make sense at all, first, because, personally, I’ve been a journalist since 1996, and we were vetted, so it was never a mystery that I was a journalist, never a secret. Second, my colleague wasn’t a journalist herself. And we came here not as journalists, but as representatives of an international NGO with a constitutive status in many international organizations. So it was really as Reporters Without Borders representatives, not as reporters covering the case. So, it doesn’t make sense for this second reason. And there is a third reason for which it doesn’t make sense, is that already two journalists, at least, have been able to visit him in jail in the past four years. So —

AMY GOODMAN: And very quickly, Christophe — Christophe, we just have a minute, but Stella Moris, his wife, says his health is deteriorating inside. She was allowed to go in, because she does visit him. Do you see parallels between Evan Gershkovich in Russia being held on espionage charges — they said he was trying to get military secrets from Russia — and Julian Assange publishing U.S. military secrets, faces 175 years if extradited and found guilty in the United States?

CHRISTOPHE DELOIRE: I would not compare at all the U.S. and Russia. The U.S. are around 42nd in the World Press Freedom Index; Russia, 155th, out of 180 countries. One country has the worst records — some of the worst records regarding press freedom; the other one, the U.S., is defending press freedom all over the world.

But what is clear is that the detention of Julian Assange for his contribution to journalism is clearly an inconsistency. And on that, really, we call on the Biden administration, on Joe Biden himself, to stop this proceeding that was launched under the Trump administration, so that the U.S. can clearly amplify their legitimacy to defend press freedom everywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Christophe Deloire, we want to thank you so much for being with us. Christophe Deloire is the secretary-general, director-general of Reporters Without Borders, RSF, chair of the Forum on Information and Democracy.

Coming up, The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War. Stay with us.

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