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Julian Assange
February 19, 2024

Don’t punish those who commit war crimes but those who denounce them: because the Assange case is a death sentence to freedom of the press

Insight by Andrea Carcuro

Perhaps not everyone remembers, but if the war crimes committed by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan have been made public, the credit is due to Julian Assange, Australian journalist, activist and founder of WikiLeaks. Assange is currently held in a cell two meters for three from thousand and eight hundred days, in the high security prison London Her Majesty Prison Belmarsh. A political and judicial persecution that has been going on since 2010 and that aims to punish Assange only or for doing his job. Only to be a journalist who denounced the numerous human rights violations committed by the US army. 

For this reason that the potential extradition of Julian Assange has human rights implications that go far beyond his individual case, and much - indeed everything - passes from the decision of the High Court of the United Kingdom that, next 20 and 21 February in London, will meet to decide whether the journalist and founder of WikiLeaks still has a chance to oppose the extradition requested by the United States of America. 

If extradited, Assange risks 175 years in prison just for having obtained and published on WikiLeaks in 2010 thousands of secret documents - of public interest - that prove the war crimes of the United States during the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Torture, deliberate killing of unarmed civilians and their rescuers, including children and journalists. On 6 February, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Alice Jill Edwards, called on the UK to stop extradition, saying that, if it goes ahead, Assange would be highly exposed to a risk of torture and ill-treatment, already seen its strong depressive state. In addition, if the United Kingdom decides to extradite Assange, it would violate Article 4 of the US-UK extradition treaty, which prohibits him for political offences.


Journalism is not a crime


The one in Assange is in effect a political process for investigative journalism. The persecution against him is the symptom, which is increasingly in danger of becoming chronic, of a disease that has long affected the state of health of Western democracies. A model that of liberal democracies, often claimed, but that the evidence is increasingly hostile to forms of dissent: Investigative journalism like that of Julian Assange is annoying because it stands as the last bulwark to the rampant impunity of war crimes and against humanity.

When democracies were born, we laid the foundation for freedom of the press, thanks to which as citizens we have the right to know whether or not governments are acting in the public interest. For this reason, the press must be free, because as journalists we must be free to investigate and express ourselves, not only by passively reporting press releases, of governments, institutions or large companies», emphasizes to Voice Over Sara Chessa, journalist who has been following the Assange case for some time.

Chessa began to tell the story for Independent Australian in 2019, the year of Assange’s arrest after Ecuador - under US pressure - revoked the asylum granted to him in his Embassy in London in 2012. Then Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa offered protection to Assange, judging his concerns of possible extradition to the United States to be well founded.

Being Assange an Australian citizen, Independent Australian immediately spent money in his defense and Chessa told with an interview to the former Minister of Internal Affairs of Iceland, Ögmundur Jónasson, the moment when «He kicked the FBI out of his country because he said he was there to defend the Icelandic government from a hacker attack». Jónasson discovered through his intelligence services that the FBI presence was due to an attempt to frame Assange.


The Assange model


The main reason behind the attempt to frame - and to take to trial - Assange is all in his model of activism and journalism: «bring the Western states, and especially the United States, to peace policies through truth; give another image of the war showing all the ordinary and systematic violations of human rights in Iraq and Afghanistan», underlines Chessa. All with the aim of dismantling the false rhetoric of wars as the export of democracy and countering the influence of the arms lobby and the entire international military industrial complex on the states. . A journalism «at the service of the right to knowledge», the evidence of which has never been denied, which is instead faced with a blatant case of censorship; a deliberate attack on the right of peoples, enshrined in universally recognized human rights charters, to know the actions of their rulers. All this would set a very dangerous precedent for a strong suppression of freedom of information. Riccardo Noury, spokesman for Amnesty International Italia, is also of the same opinion, pointing out at Voice Over the short circuit to which the political and judicial process is leading to the founder of WikiLeaks. The attack on the freedom of the press comes from afar, at least from the launch of the "war on terror": or you are embedded [journalist working in a war zone following an army, accepting the protection but also the limitations imposed on their freedom of expression, ndr] or you are enemies, to the point of being physically eliminated. The goal, through threats, arrests, convictions, sham prosecutions and murders, is to silence, do not let know». In the case of Assange, denounces Noury, «if he is extradited a unique fact will be established: about war crimes will not be punished those who committed them but the one who revealed them».

A warning remarked by the same Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that, one year after the arrest, on 28 January 2020 within Resolution 2317/2020 on "Threats to media freedom and the security of journalists in Europe" the European Parliament has unanimously approved an amendment calling on all EU Member States to regard the detention and prosecution of Julian Assange as a dangerous precedent for journalists. An appeal that followed that of the then UN rapporteur on torture and inhuman treatment , Nils Melzer, who already in 2019 urged on several occasions the four governments involved in the judicial process (Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Sweden) to refrain from further acts detrimental to Assange’s human rights and to take measures to provide him with appropriate compensation and rehabilitation. According to Melzer in the USA he would not be guaranteed a fair trial: extradition would expose him to the risk of indictment for various crimes including espionage, prosecuted under the Espionnage Act, dating from 1917.


Why not talk about espionage


It is important, however, to reiterate that Julian Assange is not accused of espionage, but of having obtained and disclosed confidential documents. The difference may seem subtle, but it is not, on the contrary, as the journalist Stefania Maurizi writes in X, saying that Assange has been accused of espionage means playing into the hands of the US authorities who want to destroy him. In this way they are «putting spies in the same box, selling documents reserved for the enemy, and journalists, who publish confidential information to expose war crimes and torture».

On the 20th and 21st of February, the High Court of the United Kingdom were to arrive at a negative response regarding the possibility of a further appeal, Assange would be left with nothing but the last recourse to the ECHR, the European Court of Human Rights - accessible only after all the internal courts have been tried - which, however , the British conservative government continues to ignore and not recognize.

On the other hand, regardless of what comes out of the High Court the Assange model has represented a reference for all activists, journalists and whistleblowers who are fighting daily to ensure that press freedom is protected and remains independent of any government and any other form of power, economic and political.

 This is mainly thanks to the huge mobilization that has acted as a megaphone to the story and that has allowed not to decrease the attention on the invaluable work of inquiry of the founder of WikiLeaks.

«A court worthy of the name should reject the request for extradition to the USA even in the absence of any mobilization in its favor - Riccardo Noury points out bluntly - Extradition would throw a bucket of ice in the back of investigative journalism. Other states might feel entitled to go and catch, to bring them home, journalists who have sought shelter elsewhere».

Investigative and public interest journalism is the basis of a rule of law. Spreading information about the actions of governments is the essence of freedom of the press and expression and the process in Assange for the dissemination of 251,000 US diplomatic documents - which we would never have discovered without him - many of which were classified, but stained with the blood of innocent civilians, reminds us how invaluable his work is for the international protection of human rights.


Collateral Murder [Source, WikiLeaks April 2010]




On 5 April 2010, WikiLeaks released this video - obtained from anonymous military sources and cross-checked between different witnesses - showing the indiscriminate killing of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad, including two journalists from Reuters; which had been denied the required footage through a Freedom of Information Act. The video, shot from the sight of an Apache helicopter, shows the unjustified killing of a Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two children involved in the rescue were also seriously injured. From 2003 to 2009, 139 journalists were killed in Iraq while were doing their job.

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