The Umbrian capital and host of the International Journalism Festival discussed on Tuesday whether to grant journalist/editor Julian Assange, who is still arbitrarily imprisoned in the United Kingdom, political refugee status.
The discussion took place in a hearing called by the City Council of Perugia (Italy), which convened it expressly considering the Assange case of great concern for freedom of the press and citizens’ right to be informed — two cornerstones of our democracy.
The opening speeches of two of the city councilors sponsoring the proposal, Francesca Tizi of the Five Star Movement and Sarah Bistocchi of the (Italian) Democratic Party, made it immediately clear why Assange’s fate concerned them: on his freedom depends our #RightToKnow as citizens.
The Committee then heard Rita Martone, representing Amnesty International, the constitutional expert Prof. Mauro Volpi and Nicoletta Bernardi, spokesperson for the ‘Perugia per Assange’ movement, who was wearing a T-shirt with the words ‘Exposing crimes is not a crime: FREE JULIAN ASSANGE’.
All stressed the injustice and illegality of Assange’s detention as well as the physical and psychological torture to which the WikiLeaks co-founder has been subjected since April 2019. And all reiterated how protecting Assange means protecting our fundamental freedom of speech and our right to know.
Next comes the presentation of the motion before the City Council at a date to be announced.
The complete recording of the Commission hearing can be found at this link: https://www.youtube.com/live/eAc4zWN8fVI
What would be the practical consequences for Julian of obtaining refugee status from the Municipality of Perugia?
If he obtained such status, Julian Assange would immediately be protected from extradition to the United States by virtue of the principle of non-refoulement contained in that provision. Of course, in order for Julian to benefit from this protection, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs would previously have had to ratify nationally the status of refugee, if granted by Perugia. Moreover, Julian would have to find a way to come to Italy to benefit from State protection. At present, both of these hypotheses seem rather remote.
But circumstances could change and in any case the granting of political refugee status to Assange would send a clear and unequivocal signal. The British courts have so far jumped through hoops to avoid having to take a position on the true nature of the U.S. extradition request. But if the Perugia initiative goes through, this would make it crystal clear to everyone that Julian Assange is, indeed, politically persecuted and this is why he deserves political refugee status in Italy.
Perugia for Assange