Lawyers and legal academics have called on the UK Government to end
extradition proceedings against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and
release him from prison.
Assange is fighting to avoid being sent to the US to face 17 charges
under the Espionage Act and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion
after the publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents
in 2010 and 2011.
These included the Iraq War Logs – hundreds of thousands of field reports which she new light on a US-led conflict which prompted the deaths of more than 100,000 Iraqis.
Files published by Wikileaks included a video released under the title ‘Collateral Murder’ in 2010 shot from the vantage point of two US helicopter gunships as they opened fire on suspected Iraqi fighters in 2007. Numerous civilians died in the attack including Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh.
In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Justice Secretary Robert
Buckland, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Home Secretary Priti Patel,
169 individuals and international legal organisations called for the
Government to intervene.
If extradited, campaigners said the 49-year-old will face a “show trial”
in the US.
They added he has been subject to surveillance which violates his right
to a fair trial.
“We call on you to act in accordance with national and international
law, human rights and the rule of law by bringing an end to the ongoing
extradition proceedings and granting Mr Assange his long overdue
freedom,” the letter, signed Lawyers for Assange, reads.
The signatories include barrister Lord John Hendy QC and groups
including the UK’s Arab Lawyers Association as well as the European
Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights.
The letter said the political nature of Assange’s alleged offences
prohibits his extradition under the US-UK extradition treaty and that UK
judges in his case have been subject to conflicts of interest.
They added Assange is at risk of torture or cruel, degrading and
inhumane treatment in the US, citing the potential 175-year sentence.
In June, more than 200 doctors from 33 countries signed a letter
accusing UK and American officials of “intensifying Julian Assange’s
psychological torture” in The Lancet.
Assange has been held in Belmarsh Prison in south east London, awaiting
proceedings after serving a 50-week sentence for breaching his bail.
In the letter, Lawyers for Assange said this was an “irregular and
disproportionate sentence” and stressed the need for his release given
the Covid-19 pandemic and his health.
Campaigners also said Assange’s extradition would endanger the freedom
of the press.
The letter said: “The extradition to the US of a publisher and
journalist, for engaging in journalistic activities while in Europe,
would set a very dangerous precedent.”
In July, dozens of press freedom, human rights and privacy rights
organisations co-signed an open letter to the UK Government calling for
Assange’s immediate release from prison.
Assange’s extradition hearing, originally set for May, was postponed as
a result of the coronavirus lockdown measures and was rescheduled for
September 7 at the Old Bailey.
Last month supporter and fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood called
efforts to extradite Assange a “stitch-up”.
Dressed in canary yellow and suspended in a giant birdcage outside the
Old Bailey, Dame Vivienne said: “Julian Assange is in a cage and he
needs to get out. Don’t extradite to America.
“I’m wearing yellow because he still hasn’t had any sun. A canary is a
beautiful thing and wants to fly.”
The open letter comes after the US made a fresh extradition request with
a third version of the charges against him on Friday.
Lawyers for the Wikileaks founder are now to decide whether to seek a
further delay to his extradition battle.