Stella Assange is a lawyer. She is married to Julian Assange.
Today, my husband Julian Assange should be in Strasbourg at a ceremony to honour his work as a journalist and publisher who revealed inconvenient truths about the conduct of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which the US wanted to remain hidden.
Julian is a finalist for the Sakharov Prize 2022, the European Union’s highest award in the field of human rights and freedom of thought. Awarded for the first time in 1988 to Nelson Mandela and Anatoli Marchenko, last year’s winner was imprisoned Russian politician and anti-corruption campaigner, Alexei Navalny.
Like him, Julian cannot be at the ceremony and will instead be represented by an empty chair. He has been denied bail and remains imprisoned in Belmarsh high security prison, where he has been held alongside terrorists and convicted murderers since 2019.
He has been supported by journalist organizations and human rights campaigners around the world and by everyone from Sarah Palin, the former Vice-Presidential candidate, to Nobel Prize winners, such as human rights campaigner Adolfo Perez Esquivel.
Last month Anthony Albanese, the Australian prime minister, said he had personally urged the US government to end its pursuit of Julian, noting that Chelsea Manning was released as long ago as 2017 when Barack Obama commuted her 35-year military prison sentence for leaking.
This extradition, which Julian is fighting, is seen the world over as a preposterous overreach by the US government, which is effectively claiming universal criminal jurisdiction over the British press and what journalists the world over can and cannot publish about issues that embarrass Washington. He faces a sentence of 175 years in the deepest, darkest hole of the prison system.
His only “crime” was to partner with world-leading newspapers in 2010 to publish documents that evidenced war crimes, arbitrary detention, torture, and judicial interference which had been leaked by Manning.
Last month those five newspapers – the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El País – came together in a rare show of unity to call on the US to drop its prosecution of Julian under a First World War-era law designed to prosecute spies. “Publishing is not a crime,” they said, describing the prosecution as a direct attack on media freedom. In an open letter, they added:
“Obtaining and disclosing sensitive information when necessary in the public interest is a core part of the daily work of journalists. If that work is criminalised, our public discourse and our democracies are made significantly weaker.”
Julian’s extradition was blocked by Westminster magistrates in January 2021, but the decision was subsequently overturned by the High Court. Shamefully Priti Patel, the former home secretary, approved his extradition to the US last June; Julian’s lawyers are now seeking the right for a further appeal.
The British authorities’ apparent willingness to go along with this is politically and legally disastrous for the UK. By green-lighting this political case, in which a publisher is imprisoned and risks a 175-year sentence for doing what the Guardian and the New York Times do every day, the UK is, in effect, criminalising free speech.
Moreover, Julian has been charged under the 1917 Espionage Act, which does not allow a public interest defence. Julian is not a US citizen so he will not enjoy constitutional free speech rights.
If extradited, he will not face a fair trial: no-one has ever won a national security case in Alexandria, Virginia, where the court complex is just 15 miles from the CIA headquarters.
A recent investigation, citing more than thirty US national security sources from the Trump administration and corroborated by evidence seized by Spanish police, addressed CIA plans to kidnap, rendition and even assassinate him while he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
The agents-turned-whistle blowers, who were granted anonymity by the court due to their fear of reprisals, also admitted targeting our six-month-old baby to steal his DNA. They told the court that they had installed hidden microphones to spy on his meetings with his British solicitors; Julian’s lawyers’ offices were broken into.
This legally and politically regressive American prosecution, which dates back to the Trump era, drags the British legal and political system down with it. It will rewrite the rules of what it is permissible to publish here, chilling free and open debate about abuses by our own government or by others.
Reporters Without Borders and the National Union of Journalists have said that whilst Julian remains in prison facing extradition, the UK is not a safe place for journalists and publishers to work.
The excuse for British authorities hiding their heads in the sand has been the US-UK Extradition Treaty, a relic of the Tony Blair era. It grants the US privileges the UK does not have; there is no prima facie evidence requirement, and American claims cannot be cross-examined in court.
But the British authorities can hide no longer. A system that allows a person’s extradition to the country that plotted his murder loses all its legitimacy. The press freedoms we cherish in Britain are meaningless if they can be criminalised and suppressed by unpalatable regimes, many of which are now lecturing the British about press freedom because of Julian’s incarceration.
Today, I will be in Strasbourg to represent Julian and to continue fighting for him. It is a fight for our family, to give our two sons the right to grow up with their father, but it is also a fight for justice and a fight for everyone’s right to live in a free society.
To quote my husband, “One of the best ways to achieve justice is to expose injustice”. So, my question is: “How much longer do we have to wait for justice for Julian Assange?”