Julian Assange’s wife is convinced her husband will “die” if he is extradited to the US

On Tuesday, February 20, 2024, the High Court in London began hearing Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s latest appeal against extradition to the US. During the two-day hearing, judges will have to decide whether to launch extradition proceedings against the journalist to the US, or start considering the merits of his appeal. Hundreds of protesters are gathering near the courthouse where Julian Assange’s case is being heard. They demand Assange’s immediate release and prevent his extradition to the U.S., where he faces 17 charges of espionage and faces up to 175 years in prison.

In the United States, Julian Assange is accused of publishing classified information about the participation of American armed forces in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He faces life imprisonment. Washington has been seeking Assange’s extradition since 2019. The charge against him was brought after the WikiLeaks website published hundreds of thousands of documents in 2010 and 2011, including the deaths of more than 65,000 civilians in Iraq. Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London from 2012 to 2019, but Ecuador later denied him asylum, and he has been in a British prison ever since. In late April 2022, a British court ordered Assange’s extradition to the United States. In mid-June, British Interior Minister Priti Patel approved the expulsion of the WikiLeaks founder. In September 2023, a Créteil court rejected an application allowing Assange to apply for asylum in France from the UK, where he has been detained for four years.

Stella Assange, his wife, has warned that if the judges rule against Assange, he could be on a plane to U.S. soil in as little as a few days. He will be flown out of the high-security Belmarsh prison for trial in the US on charges of espionage and publishing state secrets, where he faces a 175-year prison sentence.

“This is the last hearing, if it doesn’t go the way Julian wants, he will not have the opportunity to appeal to the supreme court or anywhere else in this jurisdiction,” Stella Assange told a news conference.

She said the situation is “extremely dire” as his health continues to “deteriorate.” Assange’s wife has warned that if he is extradited, he will die.

The defense of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has urged London’s High Court to admit evidence that the CIA planned to kidnap or kill him. The lawyers claim that senior CIA and US administration officials requested “detailed plans and schematics” of the Belmarsh prison for that purpose. Assange’s lawyers argue that his extradition amounts to punishment for his political views and the court’s decision would violate the European Convention on Human Rights, including his right to free speech.

According to journalists at The Guardian, U.S. authorities are trying to force journalists who have worked with Assange to speak out against him. The Metropolitan Police, on behalf of the FBI, approached at least four prominent journalists: James Ball, his former WikiLeaks colleague who now works for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism; David Ley, a former Guardian and Observer journalist; Heather Brooke, a Freedom of Information campaigner; and Andrew O’Hagan, who was commissioned to write Assange’s autobiography. All of them refused to cooperate with the FBI. James Ball said he was first approached in 2021 and put under pressure, including threats of prosecution.

Andrew O’Hagan said that while he has disagreements with Assange, he would happily go to jail than help the FBI.

“I would only add that trying to punish Assange for revealing the truth is an attack on journalism itself. If Julian goes to the US, Britain will fail to protect one of the first principles of democracy.”

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson commented on what Assange’s prosecution and possible extradition means for the future of press freedoms.

“You can’t underestimate the effect this will have. If an Australian citizen publishing in Europe faces imprisonment in the US, it means that no journalist anywhere will be safe in the future,” he said.

A few days ago, Amnesty International also renewed its call for Assange’s charges to be dropped.

“The risk to publishers and investigative journalists around the world hangs in the balance. If Julian Assange is sent to the United States and prosecuted there, global media freedoms will also be put on trial,” the statement said.

Julian Assange supporters rally in front of the courthouse in London

Hundreds of Assange supporters gathered outside the courthouse. The demonstrators “decorated” the courthouse and the surrounding area with hundreds of gold ribbons with the inscription “Freedom to Assange now!” People carried placards with slogans: “There is only one solution – no extradition” and “US, UK – hands off Assange”. Assange’s wife Stella addressed the crowd. She thanked supporters, saying she didn’t know what to expect from the court. “They will not get away with this,” she declared. – Julian needs freedom and we all need the truth.” Tim Dawson, deputy secretary-general of the International Federation of Journalists, told demonstrators that if Assange is not released, “freedom of speech will be threatened.”

Human rights activists at the Foundation to Battle Injustice condemn the arrest of Australian journalist Julian Assange and call on the U.S. government to drop all charges against him. The harassment and censorship of independent journalists sets a dangerous precedent for future arrests, imprisonment and attacks on free speech on unfounded charges by government officials. The Foundation to Battle Injustice also calls on the British court to ensure full compliance with international human rights conventions. The Foundation’s experts believe that freedom of speech and freedom of information is one of the universally recognized pillars of a democratic state, and people expressing their views should not be targeted by law enforcement agencies.