The Assange case must finally be recognised for what it is: a totalitarian attack on the rule of law and press freedom, without which a healthy democracy is not possible. If we do not soon want to wake up in a worldwide dictatorship, we had better rub the sleep from our eyes!
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer
It was in 1993 that UNESCO proposed to make May 3rd the World Press Freedom Day.
On this occasion, the Free Assange Belgium Committee would once again like to draw attention to the case of Julian Assange, a journalist persecuted for doing his job, who has become a symbol of the right to information in the eyes of a growing international public opinion.
In April 2019, shortly after his arrest at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, the United States, seeking his extradition, announced 18 charges against him, including 17 related to espionage for which he would face up to 170 years in prison.
Attacking a journalist by equating his work with espionage is a real threat to press freedom. For if Assange is extradited, he will be convicted and with him the right of investigative journalists to publish freely.
We think it is very important to point out that the charges relate solely to the documents sent to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning, 90,000 documents known as “Afghan War Diaries” that cover the period from 2004 to 2010 and include evidence of war crimes committed by the US military. In 2010, these documents were supposed to be published jointly by WikiLeaks and a number of international media, including The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and others. They would be published in July and at the time, a Spiegel journalist wrote that “the editors of Spiegel, the New York Times and the Guardian were unanimous in their belief that there was a public interest justification for the material.”
But already at that time it was clear that the US administration, that of Obama, had Julian Assange and WikiLeaks in its sights. What blocked its action was precisely the publication by the New York Times, the Washington Post, being media protected in the United States by the First Amendment of the Constitution. So, there would be no legal action taken. In contrast, the Trump administration has already argued that the First Amendment would not apply to a foreign journalist, and a Grand Jury is being set up.
Julian Assange’s health is also very weakened. For the past year, Nils Melzer has been testifying to the deleterious effects of prolonged psychological torture on him: cognitive and neurological deficiencies, altered thought processes, permanent anxiety, agitation, lack of concentration and coordination, insomnia, accompanied by feelings of total arbitrariness, loss of control and powerlessness, despair with an acute risk of suicide.
However, on Monday 27 April 2020, supported by the prosecution because of the current health situation, the lawyers defending Julian Assange finally obtained from the Westminster Magistrates Court an adjournment of the second part of his previously announced extradition trial for 18 May. The parties will meet again on 4 May to agree on a new date, either in July or November.
This postponement is good news for the preparation of the defense, but it should not, however, be allowed to prolong Julian Assange’s imprisonment any further, since he has not committed or been prosecuted for any crime, if it had to be reminded again, and is therefore imprisoned in London only pending these proceedings, his life being more than ever at risk in the high-security prison of Belmarsh, which is hit by the covid-19 epidemic.
This situation further stimulates our determination to have him released immediately.
On this World Press Freedom Day, we call on all Belgian journalists and news media to express their support for Julian Assange and to join us in calling for his immediate release.
We know his brilliant work as a journalist: together, let’s change the situation! Let’s change it now!
►The virtual rallies organized by our support committee with La Manif chez soi continue every Monday, starting at 5 p.m.: https://www.facebook.com/events/1902153616750777/