Free Julian Assange!

February 2024 demo at the High Court in London in support of Julian Assange

Julian Assange has won the right to further challenge extradition to the US. On 20 May, the High Court ruled that Assange may appeal against the US government’s requests to extradite him to face 18 charges of espionage relating to documents published on WikiLeaks that revealed war crimes. This comes after the High Court delayed the ruling in March to give the US time to offer assurances relating to the conditions under which he would stand trial, if extradited.

In April, the US provided flimsy and disingenuous assurances to the court that if he were to stand trial in the country, he would have the right to seek protection under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, would not be discriminated against on grounds of his nationality (Assange has Australian citizenship) and would not face the death penalty. During the 20 May hearing, Assange’s lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald KC, described the assurances as ‘blatantly inadequate’ and argued that the court should not accept the assurances relating to the First Amendment rights nor possible discrimination as a foreign national, because they would not be legally bound to honour them. However, Fitzgerald did accept the US’s assurance that Assange would not face the death penalty, stating that they had made an ‘unambiguous promise not to charge any capital offence’.

The High Court ruled in Assange’s favour and agreed that the US’s assurances were insufficient. This means that the High Court will now hear Assange’s appeal against extradition to the US where, if convicted, he could be sentenced to 175 years in prison, which could be served in solitary confinement.

This delay is a small victory for fair and free journalism, but the battle is far from over. Julian Assange remains incarcerated in the hellhole that is HMP Belmarsh, where he has been held since 2019. His health is inevitably deteriorating. Ill-health has prevented him appearing at recent court hearings. It is not yet known when the appeal will be heard by the court, but in the meantime, Assange must be released on bail to receive the medical treatment that he urgently requires. And it is clear that if this extradition is allowed to go ahead it would represent the blatant criminalisation of investigative journalism that holds the ruling class to account – in essence giving carte blanche to imperialist governments and institutions to commit atrocities with impunity.

One has only to see the outrageous treatment of a similar case of whistleblowing in Australia, to understand what is at stake.  David McBride, an Australian former military lawyer, leaked documents to the Australian Broadcast Corporation that revealed that the Australian Defence Forces had unlawfully killed 39 civilians in Afghanistan. The disclosure of these documents was pivotal in the Brereton enquiry, which was carried out by the ADF and concluded that Australian troops had committed war crimes in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2013. Despite this, the Australian state refused to drop the case against McBride and in May he was sentenced to five years and eight months in prison after being convicted of stealing Commonwealth property, breaching the Defence Act and disclosing confidential information.

Seamus O’Tuairisc