Assange languishes in jail

The WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, in need of urgent medical attention, continues to be in prison despite the dropping of all charges against him.

Published : Dec 10, 2019 07:00 IST

Julian Assange shortly after being sentenced to 50 weeks in Belmarsh prison on May 1.

Julian Assange shortly after being sentenced to 50 weeks in Belmarsh prison on May 1.

J ulian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks and crusader for media freedom, continues to languish in the Belmarsh prison in the United Kingdom despite the Swedish authorities finally stopping all “preliminary investigation” into charges of sexual misconduct against him. It took the Swedish prosecutors more than 10 years to formally announce that there was “insufficient evidence” against Assange to proceed with the case.

The WikiLeaks founder has insisted that the allegations of rape against him were fabricated and a pretext to incarcerate him and finally extradite him to the United States. The U.S. has not forgiven him for exposing the war crimes it committed in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

Because of the political conspiracy hatched in tandem by the U.S., the U.K. and Swedish governments, Assange was forced to seek political sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he remained until April this year. The establishment media in the West, which initially cooperated with WikiLeaks to publish the explosive material Assange unearthed, subsequently turned against him with a vengeance at the behest of the political establishment. Assange has been labelled a traitor, serial sex abuser and a Russian agent, among other things, in the Western media. The Swedish investigations provided the basis for the calumnies against Assange to be mainstreamed.

‘Psychological torture’

In fact, Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, wrote to the Swedish government stating that its investigation was “the primary factor that triggered, enabled and encouraged the subsequent campaign of sustained and public mobbing and judicial persecution” against Assange in many countries. Melzer said that this amounted to “psychological torture” of the WikiLeaks founder. The findings by the first Swedish investigator in 2010 stated that there were no grounds to suspect that Assange had committed rape. Assange refused to go to Sweden to face charges as the authorities there refused to give him guarantees that he would not be extradited to the U.S.

Recently, Melzer said to a group of European Union parliamentarians: “What Julian Assange has been accused of in the U.S. is basically investigative journalism, which we need. It is a systematic necessity for the state of democracy that we have investigative journalists.” The U.N. Rapporteur took aim at the double standards of the countries involved in the Assange witch-hunt. He said that WikiLeaks had provided “clear evidence of war crimes having been committed. We have clear evidence of torture being committed on a large scale, we have clear evidence of corruption, we have clear evidence of a host of human rights abuses and there have been no prosecutions, no investigations by any of those states that scream so loudly about ‘the rule of law’ in this case.”

After being forced out of the Ecuadorian embassy by Lenin Moreno, the new right-wing President of Ecuador, presumably on orders from Washington, Assange was arrested and imprisoned in a maximum-security cell by the U.K. authorities.

According to close friends and family, after years of living in the Ecuadorian embassy in a cramped room, deprived of sunlight and regular exercise, and now lodged in a high-security prison, Assange’s health has greatly deteriorated. He was barely coherent during his last appearance in court. More than 65 eminent doctors from the U.K. and all over the world have issued an open letter calling for Assange’s urgent release. The letter said that Assange was in danger of dying in jail if he was not given immediate attention by an expert medical team.

Assange’s next hearing is scheduled for February 2020. Despite calls for his release by eminent personalities from all walks of life, the U.K. government is unrelenting. The U.S. and U.K. have traditionally enjoyed the closest security ties, and the U.S. deep state is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that Assange is handed over to them despite the original case against Assange being dropped by the Swedish authorities.

The neoconservatives who back U.S. President Donald Trump are angry with Assange for exposing U.S. war crimes and state secrets. The liberal interventionists in the Democratic Party want Assange’s scalp even more since they blame WikiLeaks for lending a helping hand to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election campaign.

2016 U.S. election

Leading Democrats and Republicans have openly called for the assassination of Assange. Senior administration officials during the Barack Obama presidency and under Trump have advocated the death penalty for the WikiLeaks founder, calling him nothing but a “high tech” terrorist. Hillary Clinton, the losing candidate in 2016, said Assange had colluded with Russian intelligence to sabotage her campaign. She even accused WikiLeaks of practically being “a Russian-owned subsidiary” but provided no evidence.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, WikiLeaks released thousands of hacked emails connected to the Democratic Party campaign. Both the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) claimed that the primary motive of the leaks was to damage the prospects of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. WikiLeaks published a lot of explosive information about the working of the U.S. State and Defence departments when Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State. Assange has never hidden his dislike for Hillary Clinton, but he is no fan of Trump either. The Trump administration has been putting pressure on the Conservative government in the U.K. to expedite Assange’s extradition to the U.S. Assange has been charged by the Trump administration with hacking into a computer located in the Pentagon.

Assange faces, in all, 17 charges of spying and one of computer hacking in the U.S. courts under the draconian Espionage Act of 1917, which the Obama administration had revived.

Assange was initially charged by the previous U.S. administration with the relatively minor crime of “password hacking”. Now he has become the first publisher in recent history to be charged under the Espionage Act. If extradited, he is almost sure to spend the rest of his life in a maximum-security jail in the U.S. It could be a fate similar to those who remain incarcerated in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp since 2002.

Chelsea Manning, the U.S. Army intelligence analyst who had passed on classified files relating to torture and killings by the U.S. forces to WikiLeaks, was given a long prison sentence in 2013 and put in solitary confinement. She was given a presidential pardon by Obama at the end of his term but was again arrested this year after she refused to cooperate with the grand jury that has been set up to try Assange.

In a statement released from jail, Chelsea Manning said she assumed “full and sole responsibility” for the leaks. Chelsea Manning has been indicted for responding to Assange’s appeal to those with access to public information to leak it to WikiLeaks. The U.S. prosecutors’ charge sheet states that Chelsea Manning and Assange shared the common objective of WikiLeaks’ mission to be the “intelligence agency of the people”. Assange, the U.S. prosecutors charge, “knew, understood and fully anticipated” that Chelsea Manning was illegally providing him with classified records “containing national defence information of the United States”.

Assange faces a maximum sentence of 175 years if he is convicted on all the charges. Trump famously declared on the campaign trail in 2016 that he “loves” WikiLeaks. Trump’s decision to prosecute Assange on this very serious charge of publishing “classified information” has been described as a “dire threat” to the functioning of the media by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The Freedom of the Press Foundation found the charges against Assange “terrifying”.

Assange’s lawyer, Mike Sommers, said the case against his client was part of Washington’s “avowed war on whistle-blowers to include investigative reporters and publishers”. Sommers warned that the “unprecedented charges” against Assange “demonstrate the gravity of the threat” the action posed to investigative journalists all over the world. The lawyer alleged that the U.S state was “actively engaged” in intruding into “privileged discussions” between him and Assange.

In a recent investigative article, the Italian newspaper La Republica gave details about the extensive and systematic spying the U.S. intelligence services conducted on Assange when he was a political refugee in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. All the meetings and conversations Assange had in the embassy premises were recorded and filmed and sent to the U.S. intelligence services. Even the phones of journalists who interviewed Assange were hacked. According to the report, a Spanish company named UC Global was responsible for the snooping. The company was started by David Morales, a former Spanish Army officer and small-time contractor.

The left-wing government of Rafael Correa in Ecuador at the time hired the company in good faith to install basic security measures in the embassy after Assange had sought refuge there. Before Assange’s arrival, the embassy did not have even security cameras. Soon after getting the contract, Morales put himself at the service of U.S. intelligence agencies to spy on Assange. The Ecuadorian embassy staffers had been unaware of Morales’ activities for a long time.

According to the report, the spying increased dramatically after the Trump administration took over in Washington. Microphones were placed even in women’s toilets. The evidence gathered will be used by the U.S. authorities if and when they are able to proceed with their case against Assange. Many Spanish jurists and lawyers argue that Assange’s extradition to the U.S. should be denied simply on the grounds of the U.S. government violating “lawyer-client” confidentiality and the fundamental right to defence.

In another interesting development, Felicity Arbuthnot, the magistrate hearing Assange’s extradition case, was finally forced to recuse herself after being accused of “conflict of interest”. Her husband, Lord Arbuthnot, a former British Defence Minister, has extensive links with some of the institutions and individuals exposed by WikiLeaks. The magistrate herself had received gifts from a military and cybersecurity firm named by WikiLeaks. Her son, Alexander Arbuthnot, is the vice president and cybersecurity adviser of a firm that has close ties with MI5, the British intelligence agency. Alexander Arbuthnot’s employer, the private equity firm Vitruvian Partners, has a multimillion-dollar investment in Darktrace, a cybersecurity firm that has staffers recruited directly by the U.S. National Security Agency and the CIA. These intelligence agencies are the moving forces behind the efforts to permanently silence Assange and Wikileaks.

There are no signs yet that the show trial of Assange will be over any time soon despite the fact that existing treaties between the U.S. and the U.K. explicitly ban extradition on political grounds. Until now, the British courts were virtually being tutored by U.S. security officials on how the trial of Assange should be conducted.

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