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Press Release

40+ Rights Groups Call on UK to Free Julian Assange

03. 07. 2020

WikiLeaks publisher turns 49 in prison, facing U.S. extradition

Dozens of press freedom, human rights, and privacy rights organizations across five continents have co-signed an open letter to the U.K. Government calling for the immediate release of imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The publisher, who turns 49 years old today in HMP Belmarsh, is facing extradition to the United States where he has been indicted under the Espionage Act for WikiLeaks’ 2010-11 publications of the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan War Diaries, and State Department cables. If convicted, Mr Assange would face up to 175 years in prison, “tantamount to a death sentence.”

The co-signers write,

“This [indictment] is an unprecedented escalation of an already disturbing assault on journalism in the US, where President Donald Trump has referred to the news media as the ‘enemy of the people’. Whereas previous presidents have prosecuted whistleblowers and other journalistic sources under the Espionage Act for leaking classified information, the Trump Administration has taken the further step of going after the publisher.”

Seventeen of the 18 charges against Mr Assange are under the 1917 Espionage Act, marking the U.S.’s first-ever attempt to prosecute the publication of truthful information in a fundamental test of the First Amendment’s protection of press freedoms. Mr Assange has also been charged with conspiring to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which uses language similar to the Espionage Act.

Reporters without Borders, PEN International, ARTICLE19, the International Federation of Journalists, and the National Union of Journalists are among the 40 rights groups who have signed on to the letter, initiated by the Courage Foundation, a whistleblower support network which campaigns for Mr Assange’s freedom and the public’s right to know.

Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International, said:

“This indictment effectively opens the door to criminalising activities that are vital to many investigative journalists who write about national security matters. Beyond the case itself, we are concerned that the mere fact that Assange now risks extradition and potentially decades behind bars if convicted in the USA has a chilling effect on critical journalism, which is essential for exposing the truth about crimes committed by governments.”

Rebecca Vincent, Director of International Campaigns for Reporters without Borders said,

“As Mr Assange spends his 49th birthday behind bars, it remains clear that the US government will continue to target him at all costs. It is up to the UK government to uphold its own obligations to protect freedom of information and not enable a politically motivated prosecution by another state. Mr Assange has clearly been targeted for his contributions to public interest reporting. All charges against him should be dropped and he should be released without further delay.”

On 24 June 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a second superseding indictment against Mr Assange, adding no new charges but expanding on the charge for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

“The government’s relentless pursuit of Julian Assange poses a grave threat to journalists everywhere and to the public’s right to know”, said Barry Pollack, an attorney for Mr Assange in the United States, calling the new indictment “yet another chapter in the U.S. Government’s effort to persuade the public that its pursuit of Julian Assange is based on something other than his publication of newsworthy truthful information.”

Press freedom groups have warned since his arrest and initial indictment in April 2019 that a U.S. conviction for Mr Assange—an Australian citizen who operated in Europe and was granted asylum and citizenship by Ecuador—would criminalize publishing around the world, allowing the United States to dictate what journalists can publish beyond its borders. The United Kingdom, which is detaining Mr Assange on the U.S.’s behalf, has the power to stop the extradition process and let him walk free immediately.

The letter concludes,

“We call on the UK government to release Mr Assange without further delay and block his extradition to the US – a measure that could save Mr Assange’s life and preserve the press freedom that the UK has committed to championing globally.”

Mr Assange’s extradition proceedings, which commenced for one week in February 2020 in London, are scheduled to continue for three weeks beginning 7 September.

The Courage Foundation hosts a defense campaign website for WikiLeaks and Mr Assange at defend.WikiLeaks.org.

Read the Open Letter here.

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Press Release

‘We haven’t seen new indictment’ Assange’s lawyers tell court

29. 06. 2020

The US government has failed to show its new indictment of Julian Assange either to his legal team or the Judge. This extraordinary fact emerged in Westminster magistrates court earlier today (Monday 29th June).
 
Mark Sommers QC, acting for Assange, told the court he was ‘concerned that we are only hearing about this fresh indictment in the press’ and that neither he nor the court have been served with the document.
 
The US Department of Justice’s Superseding Indictment was released to the press last Wednesday. It is meant to strengthen the US case against Assange but contains no new charges and little information that is not already in the public realm.
 
‘A superseding indictment is supposed to do what it says on the tin, it’s supposed to replace the existing indictment’, said WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson, ’But the US have no new charges to bring, and they can’t even be bothered to send the court or the defence team the document. That just shows this is a glorified press release and not a new indictment at all.’  Hrafnsson continued ‘This shows how they are abusing due process in the UK and flaunting the legal system’s rules’.
 
The US government is showing contempt both for the court and the defence lawyers by trying to run a prosecution in the press rather than in front of the judge.
 
Without official sight of the fresh indictment the defence could make no response in court, despite the fact that it has been issued just days before the deadline for defence evidence on 10th July.
 
Ill health prevented Julian Assange, on Doctors advice, from making the journey to the video room in Belmarsh prison to be part of the court proceedings. He has not  been able to join these routine procedural court proceedings for more than 3 months.
 
The Covid crisis has further restricted contact between Assange and his lawyers.
 
Judge Vanessa Baraitser also announced that the remainder of the extradition hearing is almost certain be heard in the Old Bailey, starting on Monday 7th September.
 
The Don’t Extradite Assange campaign have said they will be protesting in a socially distanced manner when the hearing restarts.  
 
 

 
Background
 
The remaining three weeks of the Julian Assange extradition hearing is due to start on 7 September 2020.

Julian Assange is charged by the Trump government with publishing the Afghan and Iraq war logs for which he could face 175 years in jail. 
 
Julian Assange’s lawyers have experienced a considerable difficulty communicating with their client. Speaking at a recent hearing, Edward Fitzgerald QC, said ‘We’ve had great difficulties in getting into Belmarsh to take instructions from Mr Assange and to discuss the evidence with him.’ Mr Fitzgerald continued: ‘We simply cannot get in as we require to see Mr Assange and to take his instruction.’
 
The UN working group on arbitrary detention issued a statement saying that “the right of Mr. Assange to personal liberty should be restored”.
 
Massimo Moratti of Amnesty International has publicly stated on their website that, “Were Julian Assange to be extradited or subjected to any other transfer to the USA, Britain would be in breach of its obligations under international law.”
 
Human Rights Watch published an article saying, “The only thing standing between an Assange prosecution and a major threat to global media freedom is Britain. It is urgent that it defend the principles at risk.”
 
The NUJ has stated “US charges against Assange pose a huge threat, one that could criminalise the critical work of investigative journalists & their ability to protect their sources”.

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Press Release

Assange’s lawyers to respond to US superseding indictment at Monday’s court hearing

28. 06. 2020

Julian Assange’s legal team will have their first chance to respond to the US Department of Justice’s superseding indictment in court this coming Monday, 29th June.

The indictment, publicised last Wednesday night, has not yet been formally served on the defence. It comes over a year after the court’s deadline for serving an indictment on Julian Assange–14 June 2019.

The new superseding indictment contains no new charges and is primarily based on the witness testimony of a convicted conman, who has previously been imprisoned over embezzling wikileaks. He was also imprisoned over sex offences against minors.

‘This is a bluff, and a pretty poor bluff at that’, said WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson,’the US have no new charges to bring, just hearsay from paid FBI informants long ago disgraced in the press.’

The fresh indictment has been issued just days before the final deadline for defence evidence on 10th July in an attempt to limit defence lawyers, already prevented from effective contact with Assange, from effective responding.

The Covid crisis has further restricted contact between Assange and his lawyers. In a previous hearing Assange’s QC, Ed Fitzgerald, said that there had only been two phone calls between the legal team and Assange across a four week period.

The issuing of a superseding indictment is meant to play on the advantage that the US legal team enjoy due to Assange’s restricted access to his legal team.

The hearing on Monday is routine but lawyers are hoping that Judge Vanessa Baraitser will announce in which court the remainder of the full extradition case would be heard.
 
 

Background
 
The remaining three weeks of the Julian Assange extradition hearing is due to start on 7 September 2020.

Julian Assange is charged by the Trump government with publishing the Afghan and Iraq war logs for which he could face 175 years in jail. 
 
Julian Assange’s lawyers have experienced a considerable difficulty communicating with their client. Speaking at a recent hearing, Edward Fitzgerald QC, said ‘We’ve had great difficulties in getting into Belmarsh to take instructions from Mr Assange and to discuss the evidence with him.’ Mr Fitzgerald continued: ‘We simply cannot get in as we require to see Mr Assange and to take his instruction.’
 
The UN working group on arbitrary detention issued a statement saying that “the right of Mr. Assange to personal liberty should be restored”.
 
Massimo Moratti of Amnesty International has publicly stated on their website that, “Were Julian Assange to be extradited or subjected to any other transfer to the USA, Britain would be in breach of its obligations under international law.”
 
Human Rights Watch published an article saying, “The only thing standing between an Assange prosecution and a major threat to global media freedom is Britain. It is urgent that it defend the principles at risk.”
 
The NUJ has stated “US charges against Assange pose a huge threat, one that could criminalise the critical work of investigative journalists & their ability to protect their sources”.

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Press Release

Assange’s partner makes a televised father’s day plea for his prison release

21. 06. 2020

STELLA Moris, the fiancé of Julian Assange and mother of his two children, has made a heartfelt plea to the Australian Prime Minister to help secure his release from Belmarsh Prison so he can be reunited with his family.

Speaking today (Sunday) in her first television interview, she revealed that she had made a direct appeal to father-of-two Scott Morrison, asking him to intervene so Assange can spend time with his own sons, Gabriel, aged three and Max, two.

In the letter, written jointly with Assange’s father, John Shipton, she urges him to understand their anguish and show compassion by lobbying the British authorities to grant him bail:

“Family is everything to Julian. Reuniting Julian with his children and family is obviously something which is constantly in our thoughts. As Julian’s father, and his partner and mother of his two young children, we ask merciful consideration of Julian’s deteriorating mental and physical health. Detention in Belmarsh Maximum security prison, confined to a cell 23 hours each day, a lung condition, COVID 19 and prohibition on visitors are dire, injurious circumstances.

Each moment, Julian is threatened with the all too real nightmare of extradition to the United States and 175 years gaol, effectively, a penalty of death. We are not asking for you to intervene in the current legal proceedings. Our concern is getting Julian out of Belmarsh so he can be with his family”.

Assange, 48, is being held as a remand prisoner at the maximum-security prison alongside convicted killers and terrorists. He has been imprisoned since April 2019, despite having already served a 50 week-sentence for breaching the Bail Act. He is fighting extradition to the US over the Wikileaks publication of classified documents that revealed details of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The hearing, which opened in February, has been delayed until September because of the Covid epidemic, extending his imprisonment to almost 18 months.

Interviewed on the Channel 9 show, 60 Minutes, broadcast in Australia, Moris said: “I don’t want our lives to be determined by an incredible injustice. I would like to ask Scott Morrison (to intervene), he’s a father, he knows what it means to deprive the children of their father’s love. No child should have that”.

She fell in love with Assange five years ago while working on his legal fight against extradition and the couple became engaged in 2017. Revealing the reality of Assange’s life in the Ecuadorian embassy, where a private Spanish security firm kept him under secret surveillance, she said: “When I got pregnant the first time there were microphones everywhere so I had to write it down on a piece of paper to tell him”.

Journalism organisations and civil liberties groups around the world are campaigning against Assange’s extradition, saying it would set a chilling precedent for freedom of the Press, criminalising journalism and the right of journalists to receive and publish unauthorised information.

Julian’s father, John Shipton, said: “Julian misses Stella and their kids, Gabriel and Max. He just wants to come home and be with his family. These governments are not just punishing Julian for exposing their crimes against humanity, they are punishing us as a family. We are all suffering.”

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Press Release

Yet again Julian Assange and the press unable to attend court proceedings

01. 06. 2020

Julian Assange was, once again, unable to attend his own proceedings on medical advice. He remains at high risk of contracting Covid-19 due to an underlying lung condition exacerbated by years of confinement recognised by the UK as arbitrary detention.

The Judge failed to keep her undertaking to announce the venue for the remainder of the full extradition hearing starting September 7th

The audio link for journalists was unusable and the court proceedings inaudible so only the small numbers allowed in the court could hear.

‘It’s ridiculous that we still don’t have a time and a place for the remainder of the hearing’, said WikiLeaks Ambassador Joseph Farrell, ‘The delay has been a punishment in itself. Whether Julian can get proper access to his legal team remains unlikely, as Belmarsh prison remains in full lockdown. And to add insult to injury the court is unable to provide reporters with the most basic levels of access.’

Assange’s legal team have throughout complained that they have not had adequate access to Assange, but the judge has refused to intervene to ensure that both sides have equal access to their legal representation. The district judge refused bail even as the Covid infection took hold of Belmarsh.

The Don’t Extradite Assange campaign joins calls by the UN for Assange’s immediate release from prison to avoid the risk of contracting Covid 19, along with all other political prisoners around the world. Julian Assange’s pre-existing health problems make him particularly vulnerable to Covid-19. He is a remand prisoner kept in jail despite the fact that he is not serving a sentence, and he poses no threat whatsoever to the public.

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Press Release

Covid risk for Julian Assange at next court hearing

28. 05. 2020

Julian Assange is due to appear in court by video link from Belmarsh prison next Monday, 1st June, just days after the Ministry of Justice admitted that Covid 19 is far more widespread in prisons than was previously announced.

On doctor’s advice, Assange did not participate in the last two procedural hearings, as moving through the prison to use the communal video room would put him at even greater risk of contracting the virus.

Assange has an underlying lung condition that makes him especially vulnerable to Covid 19.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Justice provided a ‘more robust way’ of reporting coronavirus cases which saw the number of staff who have tested positive jump from 563 to 873 in a week.

‘The court seems to be chaotic’, said WikiLeaks editor in chief Kristinn Hrafnsson, ‘Julian could not attended the last hearing even by video link because of health concerns, no lawyer was in court because of the lockdown, and most journalists couldn’t join the conference call to listen to proceedings because of a foul-up in the court’s technical facilities. Justice has to be seen to be done. It wasn’t’.

Edward Fitzgerald QC told the court on 4 May that the defence team had had no more than two phone calls with Assange in the last month. The hearing on Monday is a routine hearing to renew Assange’s detention until the extradition hearing restarts on 7th September 2020.

Campaigners continue to insist that as a remand prisoner held in jail for no crime Assange should be immediately released on bail to avoid the risk of contracting Covid 19.

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Press Release

Assange extradition hearing set to restart 7th September

13. 05. 2020

The start date for the remainder of the Julian Assange extradition hearing has been set by Judge Vanessa Baraitser for 7th September. The long-awaited decision comes in the wake of a recent procedural hearing when defence and prosecution lawyers both told the court that the original date of the 18th May was unworkable.

There is no location set for the hearing although Woolwich Crown Court, attached to Belmarsh prison, the location of the initial week of the hearing in February, is not available.

The judge had previously resisted rescheduling the hearing in spite of the Covid19 crisis which has prevented defence lawyers from meeting with Julian Assange.

‘The court seems to be chaotic’, said WikiLeaks editor in chief Kristinn Hrafnsson, ‘Julian could not attended the last hearing even by video link because of health concerns, no lawyer was in court because of the lockdown, and most journalists could not join the conference call to listen to proceedings because of a foul-up in the court’s technical facilities. Justice has to be seen to be done. It wasn’t, and we’ve always said that a fair trial would not be possible at the time the judge originally set’.

Edward Fitzgerald QC told the court at the last hearing that the defence team had had no more than two phone calls with Assange in the last month.

Campaigners continue to insist that as a remand prisoner held in jail for no crime, who poses no risk to the public and with a young family in the UK, Assange should be immediately released on bail to avoid the risk of contracting Covid19.

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Press Release

Assange Extradition Hearing Date to Be Set Tomorrow

03. 05. 2020

Julian Assange’s interrupted procedural hearing will resume tomorrow, 4 May, at Westminster Magistrates’ Court at 10am. The video-linked proceedings will decide when his extradition case should restart.

Judge Vanessa Baraitser previously held that the case should resume as scheduled on 18 May, in the court attached to Belmarsh prison in southeast London, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic which has spread into British prisons and puts Assange at grave risk. Now that both defence and prosecution lawyers have called for a delay, Judge Baraitser has finally agreed to move the date.

‘The judge was forced to agree a change in the hearing date despite her previous stubborn decision that it should go ahead this month’ said Joseph Farrell, WikiLeaks ambassador, ‘It’s not the first time she has had to back down from her own unworkable timetable. She now needs to urgently reconsider her life-threatening refusal to grant bail for Julian Assange’.

The extradition hearing, in which the United States is asking the U.K. to send Assange to the U.S. to stand trial for unprecedented charges of Espionage for publishing, ran for its first week in February and is expected to take three more weeks. The earliest date under discussion is in July, but it could be postponed until November.

Assange’s lawyers have consistently argued that they have not had full and unfettered access to their client throughout the case, but the situation has markedly worsened in recent months.

In court last week Ed Fitzgerald QC said that the coronavirus crisis has reduced already restricted access to unacceptable levels. He said the legal team had only had a couple of phone conversations with Assange in the last month.

Julian Assange was not even able to appear by video link at the court last Monday because he has been advised on medical grounds that moving to and using the video link room in the prison is too great a risk.

Two prisoners have already died in Belmarsh and prisoners are now locked down 23 hours a day. The government has virtually halted its prisoner release programme which was already too limited to reduce the prison population to safe levels.

The judge has previously refused to bail Julian Assange.

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Assange court hearig scheduled for April 27th

24. 04. 2020

Julian Assange’s lawyers will return to court on Monday to argue that his extradition trial should be postponed.

The hearing is due to resume in the court attached to Belmarsh prison on 18 May. But Assange’s lawyers will argue that they have not had full and unfettered access to their client.

The onset of the coronavirus crisis has reduced that already restricted access to unacceptably low levels.

Julian Assange will not even be able to appear by video link at Westminster court on Monday because he has been advised on medical grounds that moving to, and using, the video link room in the prison is too great a risk.

Two prisoners have already died in Belmarsh and inmates are now locked down 23 hours a day. The government has halted its prisoner release programme which was already too restricted to reduce the prison population to safe levels.

The Judge, Vanessa Baraitser, has previously refused to bail Julian Assange.

The prosecution lawyers acting on behalf of the US government have agreed that the remainder of the trial should be postponed.

Journalists and members of the public will be unable to properly and fully attended the trial if it goes ahead in the current health emergency. During the first week of the hearing in February most journalists could not gain access to the courtroom and were consigned to a portacabin in the grounds of the Belmarsh court with an inadequate video link. But even that option would be unavailable or unusable with coronavirus still a significant danger.

The remainder of the hearing, likely to last three weeks, will constitute the vast majority of the trial and will hear all the witnesses, many of whom will be travelling from abroad.

“It is quite clear that this hearing cannot go ahead in just a few week’s time,” said Joseph Farrell, WikiLeaks ambassador. “Julian’s lawyers cannot prepare adequately, witnesses will not be able to travel, and journalists and the public will not have free, adequate and safe access to the proceedings. Justice will neither be done, nor seen to be done.”

The Don’t Extradite Assange campaign will organise a twitter storm on Sunday evening at 6pm ahead of the hearing.

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Press Release

WikiLeaks makes new content available free to broadcasters and websites

03. 04. 2020

Ten year anniversary of the “Collateral Murder” release   This Sunday, April 5th, marks the ten year anniversary of WikiLeaks publication of Collateral Murder, the video taken from the cockpit of two US Apache helicopters of the shooting dead of 2 Reuters journalists and 11 civilians on the streets of Baghdad. The release had a global political impact.  

This package has been produced to mark the ten year anniversary and contains new interviews those who were involved.

This material is free for broadcasters, media organisations, and campaign websites to use.

The Collateral Murder publication by WikiLeaks included the US military Rules of Engagement, for which the US now seeks Julian Assange’s imprisonment. He faces 175 years in prison if extradited to the United States.The new Collateral Murder – Ten Years On Video Package can be found here.

For more information:   Stay Informed – Don’t Extradite Assange: https://dontextraditeassange.com/#initiatives

Background: Julian Assange extradition and imprisonment – current status

Council of Europe: Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists – Alert 1/2020 – Continued Detention of WikiLeaks Founder and Publisher Julian Assange (Level 1) EFJ/IFJ, AEJ, Index on Censorship

Continued Detention of WikiLeaks Founder and Publisher Julian Assange

Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic (Council of Europe)

Julian Assange should not be extradited due to potential impact on press freedom and concerns about ill-treatment

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

International Bar Association – Human Rights Institute

IBAHRI condemns UK treatment of Julian Assange in US extradition trial

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

OSCE – Media Freedom Representative calls on UK authorities not to extradite WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange to the US, ahead of Monday’s hearing

Amnesty International

USA must drop charges against Julian Assange

Assange bail application highlights COVID-19 risk to many vulnerable detainees and prisoners

The Lancet: Letter from 117 doctors – End torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange

End torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange

The Council of Bar and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE)

Letter regarding the interception of communications between Julian Assange and his lawyers

New York TimesEditorial Board

Julian Assange’s Indictment Aims at the Heart of the First Amendment