Exclusive: Why Julian Assange’s extradition case could decide the future of press freedom

JULIAN Assange’s extradition case could set a precedent for press freedom going forward, a leading campaigner told Redaction Politics.

The Wikileaks founder found himself at Woolwich Crown Court last month over allegations he published top secret US cables that endangered the lives of informants and American military personnel.

The Australian citizen is currently being detained in the maximum-security Belmarsh prison after being indicted on 17 counts of violating the 1917 US Espionage Act.

Washington is demanding his extradition across the Atlantic, but his fate will not be known until June, after another three weeks of hearings take place.

Hundreds of protestors turned out on each day of the initial hearing, frustrated that Mr Assange was behind bars in the first place.

Redaction Politics spoke exclusively to Taylor Hudak of Action4Assange, a group who call Assange’s detention “illegal and arbitrary”.

Image: Kit Klarenberg

She told our publication that the outcome of the hearings was crucial for the future of press freedom.

Ms Hudak said: “I do know that if Assange is extradited, tried and convicted in the US Eastern District Court of Virginia, it will set a very chilling precedent for journalists world-wide.

“It is imperative that media cover the case more frequently and accurately and avoids repeating CIA talking points.

“Fortunately, we are seeing more members of the corporate media come out and condemn the US charging Assange.

“However, it is important more members of the media take this stance, and I strongly encourage them to do so because they too will feel the effects of Assange’s prosecution should he be extradited.”

Last month Jeremy Corbyn reiterated his opposition to Assange’s extradition, telling Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “This deep disparity with the US is about to be laid bare when the Court decide whether the Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange will be extradited to the US on charges of espionage for exposing war crimes, the murder of civilians and large-scale corruption.”

However, progressive politicians as a whole have not been particularly ardent in their defence of Assange.

Ms Hudak told Redaction Politics: “It is imperative that the candidates and individuals in positions of power call upon Assange to be freed.

“It is equally important for them to condemn the US decision to charge a journalist under the Espionage Act of 1917.

“I would have liked to have seen Corbyn advocate for Assange’s freedom much sooner, but this is certainly something to celebrate.

“It is important to encourage the (Labour leadership) candidates to show support for a free press and kindly encourage them to issue statements on Assange.

“This is especially true when it comes to Bernie Sanders who may likely win the democratic nomination in the US.

“His campaign has yet to issue a statement specific to the Assange case and he owes the American people an answer to whether or not he will drop these charges against Assange.

“I am not sure the solution lies within the White House.

“It would be a remarkable act of sovereignty for the UK to prevent this US extradition. But if Trump were to remain in the White House, I do not see him dropping these charges.

“However, the president should know that issuing a pre-emptive pardon is a great way to stand up to the intelligence community and to shut down his opponents that criticize him for his hostility toward the press.”

Image: Taylor Hudak

Controversy surrounded the case the week before the opening statements at Woolwich Crown Court; a court heard that Donald Trump offered Assange a pardon if he would say Russia was not involved in leaking Democratic party emails.

However, Ms Hudak said the claim only strengthened Assange’s integrity, adding: “This really demonstrates how political this case is– and Assange’s legal team is using that as a defense.

“Assange declined to do so, which really speaks to the person he is considering that when given the opportunity to seek freedom he chose to stand for his principles. But as far as the media’s reaction to it, media used it as an opportunity to further push the Russia conspiracy.”

Image: Taylor Hudak

The case, of course, is about press freedom. Wikileaks has, for all its faults, crucially exposed some of the many misdemeanours of Western governments.

To Ms Hudak, Assange’s case must be taken up not only by the traditional left, but all those who value freedom across the political spectrum.

She said: “It’s really important to note that this movement has no political affiliation and is welcoming of people of various political backgrounds.

“It is important to not limit support for a free press, free speech and Assange.

“Remaining apolitical is key here to ensure that this movement grows, and we are seeing this happen.

“More and more people are understanding the seriousness of this case and how it impacts not only journalists but people all over the world because it will impact the public’s ability to be fully informed.

“I also want to highlight the horrible conditions Assange is existing in while in HMP Belmarsh. Assange was handcuffed numerous times throughout the court proceedings, he was strip searched twice, placed in five holding cells and his legal documents were being confiscated at the end of the day.

“He has not been able to actively participate in his defense because he spent the court hearing in a glass box apart from his attorneys.

“He is not being treated like a human being. This undoubtedly infringes upon his right to a fair trial.

“I was enthused by the level of support I saw among protestors and demonstrators. The DEA Campaign held a very successful march from Australia House to Parliament Square the Saturday prior to the hearing, which had pedestrians (in large groups) stopping and watching us as we marched for no US extradition.

“I really want to emphasize that their was so much support when covering this case in London.”

Assange’s case will resume on May 18.

Taylor Hudak is an independent journalist and the co-founder of Action 4 Assange. She worked alongside fellow independent journalist Kit Klarenberg throughout the protests.

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