UK court joins U.S. campaign vs. press freedom in Assange extradition ruling

On Friday, Britain’s High Court ruled in favor of a U.S. government appeal to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to the United States. Fifty-year-old Assange, who was not permitted to attend the appeal hearing, is now set to face bogus espionage charges and a 175-year prison sentence. 

The appeal was granted on the basis of several concessions offered by the United States. This includes that, if convicted, Assange would not be placed in a maximum security prison and that he may serve his sentence in Australia.

These were granted after international outcry over the notorious conditions in American jails, which formed the basis for a lower court ruling blocking extradition earlier this year. Groups including the International Federation of Journalists, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, and others have all stood against Assange’s extradition on the basis that his imprisonment within the United States would be perilous to his health. Activist groups across the globe expressed fear that Assange, who is already struggling with deteriorating mental health, will face “ill-treatment,” “torture,” and “serious human rights violations” in U.S. custody. Already, the inhumane conditions he is subjected to in prison resulted in a mini-stroke in October. 

Assange’s lawyers also contend that a fair trial will be impossible in the United States – and for good reason. Last September, a report was released detailing CIA and White House plans to assassinate Assange in London. Such a grave threat indicates that Assange is considered a foremost political enemy of the U.S. government who will never be granted due process in its courts.

Julian Assange is a journalist, not a spy. Assange bravely published classified documents detailing the crimes of the U.S. government around the world including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. Information about torture plans, war crimes, interference in other countries’ internal affairs, and — ironically — espionage was released into the public domain. These leaks had a global impact, with people around the world celebrating Assange’s journalistic heroism and condemning the disgusting practices of the U.S. government.

Assange and Wikileaks have won several international awards for releasing such crucial information in the interest of the public. Now Assange is being fiercely targeted under the pretext that he is actually a spy rather than a journalist.

In order for the extradition to commence, the High Court’s ruling must also be reviewed and approved by the UK Home Secretary Priti Patel as well as the UK Supreme Court. The case could even potentially reach the European Court for Human Rights. The end result of this lengthy process will have heavy implications for the future of journalism.

Assange’s fate is not yet set in stone. U.K. courts previously ruled to block the extradition. As we approach the next step in the U.K. judicial process, public pressure in support of Assange will be crucial for defending the rights of journalists everywhere.

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