The case of Julian Assange
WikiLeaks activist and founder Julian Assange is at the center of an international storm. Locked up in the United Kingdom and charged with espionage by the United States, the Australian is under enormous pressure. "He may be a rat bag," his advocates in Australia say, "but he should be brought home."
One step into that direction has recently been made. On January 4, 2021, after long procedures, discussions, and protests on the streets, a London court ruled that the UK may not extradite Julian Assange to the United States for a trial over WikiLeaks.
The judge argued that Assange would probably face very intense and isolating conditions in American custody, The Independent reports. This would make extradition overly "oppressive," according to the court.
His lawyers are now trying to get Assange out of prison on bail. So far, the London court is unwilling (it ruled against bail on January 6, 2021), but there will surely be an appeal. If his team manages to get Assange out of prison on bail, it will be the first time in ten years that the activist is free to walk outside.
What's the story of Julian Assange?
Assange has always kept the main facts of his life story hidden. Many things we know about him are based on assumptions or information that is difficult to verify. We do know that he was born in 1971 in Australia, specifically in the city of Townsville, Queensland.
His parents were artists who travelled continuously for their careers. His father is a musician, his mother an actress. Some say this gave Julian Assange a great sense of alienation and caused behavioural problems in his childhood.
During his adolescence he became a computer genius. Magazines like 'Wired' link him to a gang of hackers called the International Subversives.
In the early 1990s he was reportedly arrested in Australia for his hacking activities. He was released after paying a fine.
Assange allegedly studied Mathematics and Physics at the University of Melbourne, but he did not complete his studies. He then proceeded to work as a software programmer.
In 2006, Julian Assange founded WikiLeaks. His life changed completely.
WikiLeaks released thousands of secret government documents for public access. Among them was the notorious 2007 U.S. military video of an airstrike killing a dozen innocent people, including two employees of Reuthers. The video came to light in 2010.
WikiLeaks turned Assange into Enemy nr. 1 of several governments. The United States charged him with conspiracy to hack Pentagon computer networks and disclose classified diplomatic and military documents.
In 2010, there were also two accusations of sexual abuse against Assange. While subject of debate, they were apparently serious enough for Assange to flee to the Ecuadorian embassy in London. From there he could not be extradited.
Julian Assange became an icon of the left, especially for revealing war crimes by the U.S. military. "If war begins with a lie, peace can be initiated with the truth," he argued. Assange believed that his revolution would sooner or later triumph over the establishment.
While some leftists revere him, in reality, Assange is an anarchist who believes in the free market (and, above all, in the free flow of information). He is a libertarian who does not mind capitalism too much as an economic model.
Among those who have known him, there are critics who point out his messianic and egomaniacal character. He is even described as a 'great dictator.'
And then there is the criticism of WikiLeads. Many have pointed out that Assange publishes sensitive information about U.S. actions but not about Russian ones, suggesting a certain partiality of Assange towards Putin.
There are also journalists who think it is dangerous and at times immoral to reveal information without any previous or contextual research.
Others, however, claim that journalism should always remain entirely free. Advocates like the Australian PM Andrew Wilkie say that Assange's case is about "the future of journalism."
Julian Assange has been a favourite of many celebrities, from Lady Gaga to Pamela Anderson (who visited him regularly at the Ecuadorian embassy), as well as filmmakers like Oliver Stone and Michael Moore.
A lot of people want to read his life's story. According to various media, a publisher has offered Assange $1.5 million for his autobiography.
2019 marked a turning point for Assange: his long-term confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy in London came to an end. Meanwhile, the UK announced it would grant his extradition to the United States. It was the beginning of a long legal battle in the UK.
If extradited, Assange could face up to 175 years in a U.S. prison. "It's a life sentence and could almost be said to be a death sentence," MP Wilkie said in The Guardian. He and others urged the British Prime Minister to deny the American extradition request.
Before Assange's extradition hearing in February 2020, Australian MPs George Christensen and Andrew Wilkie went to the UK and visited the activist in jail. They reported back that the Australian was in bad physical and mental health.
They echoed the complaints made by a group of physicians in the medical journal The Lancet in early 2020. Their letter, signed by 117 doctors and psychologists from 18 different countries, claimed that Assange was the victim of "psychological torture and medical neglect." They argued that the activist was not fit to go to court in his current state.
Australian MP Christensen told The Guardian that Julian Assange may be "a rat bag," but that "he should be brought home." He believes the government of Australia should speak up and say: "Enough is enough, leave that bloke alone and let him come home."