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HomeIssue 1Assange extradition blocked but judge takes no stand on press freedom

Assange extradition blocked but judge takes no stand on press freedom

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

UPDATE, 7 January 2021, 10.42am: We are deeply disappointed by the decision not to grant bail to Julian Assange, which is an unnecessarily cruel step following the prior decision against his extradition.

In a 6 January hearing at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser considered Julian Assange’s application to be released on bail. She ruled against his release, stating that Assange had an “incentive to abscond,” and “as a matter of fairness” she needed to give the US government the chance to pursue an appeal, which it has indicated it intends to do. Baraitser stated that Assange’s mental health is being managed at Belmarsh prison, and that the prison has its Covid-19 situation under control.

The mental health issues that were grounds to prevent his extradition will only be exacerbated by prolonged detention, and his physical health also remains at risk. This decision is the latest in a long line of disproportionately punitive measures against Assange.

As a matter of principle, no one should have to experience what Assange has endured over the past 10 years simply for publishing information in the public interest. He should not have to spend another moment unjustly deprived of his liberty. We call again for his immediate release on substantive, as well as humanitarian grounds.

Rebecca Vincent

REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS

Original post on 5 January, 2021:

Sir – Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is immensely relieved by the decision yesterday of UK District Judge Vanessa Baraitser blocking the United States’ attempt to extradite Wikileaks publisher [Australian] Julian Assange (pictured), but is extremely disappointed that the court failed to take a stand for press freedom and journalistic protections.

We disagree with the judge’s assessment that the case was not politically motivated and was not centred on journalism and free speech. This decision leaves the door open for further similar prosecutions and will have a chilling effect on national security reporting around the world if the root issues are not addressed.

Although Judge Baraitser decided against extradition, the grounds for her decision were strictly based on Assange’s serious mental health issues and the conditions he would face in detention in the US.

On the substantive points in the case – in which the US government has pursued Assange on 17 counts under the Espionage Act and one count under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act – the judge’s decision was heavily in favour of the prosecution’s arguments, and dismissive of the defence.

The US government has indicated that it intends to appeal the extradition decision.

Assange remains detained on remand in high-security Belmarsh prison, pending the judge’s consideration of his bail application on January 6. RSF calls again for his immediate release, and will continue to monitor proceedings.

Despite extensive difficulties securing access – including refusal by the judge to accredit NGO observers and threats of arrest by police on the scene – RSF monitored the January 4 hearing at London’s Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey), and has been the only NGO to monitor the full extradition proceedings against Assange.

Rebecca Vincent
Reporters Without Borders

File photo of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange: Reuters.

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