Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Amnesty International are calling for United States (US) authorities to drop all charges against Julian Assange relating to his publishing activities and for UK authorities to reject the related US extradition request. This comes ahead of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing resuming on 7 September, expected to last several weeks, that will decide on the Trump administration’s request for Assange’s extradition to the US where he faces a sentence of up to 175 years for publishing materials that document possible war crimes committed by the US military.
Nils Muižnieks, Europe director for Amnesty International says the hearing is the latest worrying salvo in a full-scale assault on the right to freedom of expression and if Assange is prosecuted it could have a chilling effect on media freedom, leading publishers and journalists to self-censor in fear of retaliation. He says if Assange is extradited it will have far reaching human rights implications, setting a chilling precedent for the protection of those who publish classified information in the public interest.
“The US extradition request is based on charges that stem directly from the publication of classified documents as part of Assange’s journalistic work with Wikileaks. Publishing such information is a cornerstone of media freedom and the public's right to access public interest information and must be protected rather than criminalised,” says Muižnieks.
According to the director, in the US Assange could face trial on 18 charges, 17 of them under the Espionage Act and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. He says Assange is the first publisher to face charges under the Espionage Act and Assange would also face a real risk of serious human rights violations including detention conditions that could amount to torture or other ill-treatment including prolonged solitary confinement.
“The fact that Assange was the target of a negative public campaign by US officials at the highest levels undermines his right to be presumed innocent and puts him at risk of an unfair trial. The UK must abide by its obligations under international human rights law which forbid the transfer of individuals to another country where they would face serious human rights violations,” says Muižnieks.
The case has begun at the Old Bailey, London and Stefan Simanowitz is outside the court with an Amnesty International spokesperson so you can follow @StefSimanowitz for updates and analysis. Amnesty International will have trial observers monitoring remotely the entire series of hearings starting with Sebastian Elgueta (@sebelgueta), UK based barrister, monitoring the first week.
Amnesty International also has concerns relating to Assange’s physical and mental well-being, particularly with the spread of COVID-19 and conditions in UK prisons and detention centres being substandard. They say it is imperative health and safety protocols are put in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection while ensuring that prisoners' and detainees' rights are protected and that bail or release should be considered for any detainee or prisoner who has serious underlying health conditions who is particularly at risk of infection.