Julian Assange: controversy surrounds his name. Whilst the press has calmed down on reporting on him, there is still a lot left unanswered and this year could prove decisive.
The timeline of Julian Assange is complicated, twisted and confusing at best. With multiple charges from around the world to balance multiple awards, it can be difficult to see the man behind the legacy. And with his extradition hearing set in stone for the 25th of February, many are wondering what his ultimate end will be.
Let’s clarify his situation. Having completed a 50-week sentence for breaching his bail conditions, Assange remains in custody at UK’s Belmarsh prison until his February hearing. He was, until November 2019, also being investigated for sexual assault allegations in Sweden, but these were subsequently dropped due to insufficient evidence. Presently, he is facing extradition to the US where he has been charged with multiple accounts of alleged computer intrusion and espionage. So, the real question is: What is he actually guilty of?
Let’s start with his breach of bail. Without a doubt, he is guilty in the eyes of the law. And the consequences of this was his 50-week sentence. This breach arguably caused a bigger storm than you would think was warranted. His bail was issued after a case of two sexual assault allegations was closed and Assange was free to leave for the UK. But soon the case was reopened and his extradition to Sweden was requested. And this is when he broke his bail agreement.
In June 2012, Assange applied for political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He proceeded to hide out there for almost seven years, while charges started piling up and the number of police officers outside his door started growing. Seven years in one room … few can relate to such an experience as that. In fact, when doctors came to visit him in January 2018, they agreed on the dangerous condition that Assange was in. With poor ventilation, no access to sunlight and considerable amounts of threat that was inflicted on him, his mental and physical health has been greatly impacted.
Not to mention the appalling attitude from the UK. It is believed that £12.6 million was spent on the officers throughout their time surrounding Assange, treating him as a prisoner rather than as an asylum seeker (a poor decision on Parliament’s part).
Now to the sexual assault allegations. His breach of bail to escape extradition to Sweden didn’t look good but was understandable. His response followed the same former logic of when he wanted to avoid extradition to the US from Sweden, where he believed he would face the death penalty for his activities in Wikileaks.
He formerly admitted to having sex with one of the women who accused him, but denied the charges waged at him. Swedish prosecutors have said that Assange fled after his lawyers were alerted that he was to be arrested that day. And while the case was discontinued during his time at the embassy, it was reopened at the request of one of the victims and then closed again in November for lack of evidence. Whether he is guilty of the rape charges we will probably never know.
And finally, his espionage crimes in the US. These form the biggest, and most controversial issue brought against him. To clarify, Assange has been accused of one count of Computer Intrusion (hacking into a government computer) and seventeen accounts of violating the US Espionage Act of 1917. These charges stem from when Chelsea Manning released videos on Wikileaks (of which he is the Editor-In-Chief) of Afghanistan and Iraq logs and the ‘Collateral Murder’ video which showed US army soldiers murdering 18 innocent people. This whistleblowing on Manning’s behalf lead to a 35-year sentence due to violation of the same Act that Assange’s charges arise from.
These videos were very damaging to the face of the US Army (not that it was spotless to begin with). The footage detailed horrific crimes being committed in foreign countries by US soldiers — one of the reasons why it was hidden from the public. Few can deny in this case that the espionage charges against Assange are revenge. They attempt to execute the same attack that was successfully applied to Manning. With charges this serious, there is a very real possibility that he could meet the death penalty if extradited to America.
And now for the philosophical question. Was Assange’s decision to release these videos morally wrong? As a journalist, you have a certain freedom of expression and a duty to deliver the truth to the people. Assange did just that when he exposed the US army’s malpractices.
If he is removed from Britain to America, would he get a fair trial? The US doesn’t have a history of an equal and fair justice system. If the court has an agenda, then that agenda will likley be fulfilled.
If Assange reaches America, he will be a dead man. And though his present condition at Belmarsh prison is worrying, it will be incomparable to what it could become should he set foot on US soil.
* Due to factual errors, minor changes have been made to this article since its publication.
Image by Espen Moe