Read Time: 3 minutes
By Anish R M
On April 11, 2021, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange spent two years under arrest in the United Kingdom. The extradition request against him was denied by a magistrate’s court on January 4, but he continues to be held in judicial remand as the prosecutors representing the United States appeal in higher courts against the decision.
Despite the fact that Assange faces no criminal prosecution in the country, the British courts continue to incarcerate him at the behest of the US, at the maximum security Belmarsh prison. The Joe Biden administration continues to pursue the Trump-era policy of prosecuting Assange and Wikileaks for exposing US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Amid all this, activists, movements, international organizations and public figures, continue to raise their voice against the way Assange is being treated. Vigils and demonstrations are being held in England and around the world on Sunday, in solidarity with Assange. Events are planned outside Belmarsh prison, the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, where Assange has been denied bail several times, and the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
According to the Morning Star, similar events are being organized in Glasgow, the US, Mexico, Germany, Australia and Canada, among other places around the world, to protest what Assange’s colleague and Wikileaks’ editor-in-chief Kristin Hraffnson has called an “outrage and a travesty of justice.”
Speaking to Press Association, Hraffnson added, “It has now been two years of incarceration, isolation and psychological torture, all for exposing war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, the same journalism for which Julian has been applauded all over the world for and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by senior journalists, press freedoms advocates and progressive groups around the world. Noted journalist Glenn Greenwald called the imprisonment “the gravest and most dangerous attack by the US Government on core press freedoms in the last five years at least.”
Many have raised concerns over Assange’s deteriorating physical and mental health, which was grounds for the London court to reject his extradition, and has only worsened inside Belmarsh in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have pointed out that this is grounds for a bail.
In November 2020, a major COVID-19 outbreak in Belmarsh was reported by family and close associates of Assange. During the extradition trial, expert witnesses have repeatedly pointed out that he is a suicide risk if the threat of extradition continues to loom. His family and lawyers have repeatedly complained of him being put under a virtual lockdown in Belmarsh, with little to no scope for him to meet his family, lawyers or even inmates in prison block.
In a statement released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), its International Campaigns Director Rebecca Vincent, lambasted the US and UK governments and called the decision to deny Assange bail as “unnecessarily cruel step.” The RSF was one of the few observers of Assange’s extradition proceedings and trials and claims to have “documented extensive barriers to open justice.”
“The mental health issues that were grounds to prevent his extradition will only be exacerbated by prolonged detention, and his physical health also remains at risk. This decision is the latest in a long line of disproportionately punitive measures against Assange,” Vincent added. RSF has also changed its banner to include a Free Assange message.
In Australia, Assange’s home country, a major campaign has been under way to get the government to intervene. The conservative Scott Morrison government has been accused of exhibiting sheer indifference, even as several Australian parliamentarians – from both the ruling bloc and the opposition – demand consular assistance that has been denied to Assange so far.
Assange’s family has also been working tirelessly to shore up support. Between February and March this year, Assange’s father John Shipton led a “Home Run For Julian” tour across Australia to rally support for the campaign for his release.
In the meanwhile, Stella Moris, Assange’s fiance, also released a statement on her fundraiser page for Assange’s legal aid for higher court appeals, calling on people to participate in the vigils and demonstrations on Sunday. Noting that public memory of the case and prosecution is fleeting, she pointed out that anniversaries are platforms “to educate, nurture compassion and solidarity”, and exhorted supporters to remind people the gravity of the whole situation.
“Remind people that the judge threw out the US extradition request in January. Remind them that Julian published information because he defends people’s right to know what the government does in their name. Remind them that he has done nothing wrong and to put him in prison is to criminalize journalism. Remind them that he has a family and that he is suffering,” Moris wrote.