Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange’s hearing for extradition to the United States on February 24, 2020 led many people, both on the streets and online, to rally support for his release. Twitter user Bean summed up the attitude of many people across the globe:
Don’t be fooled: Julian Assange is a journalist, not a hacker, and the US wants to make his work—national security journalism—a crime. #DontExtraditeAssange #AssangeCase pic.twitter.com/bnnoDrqmeh
— Bean? (@SomersetBean) February 23, 2020
Assange also has significant backing among mainstream journalists:
1200 journals from 98 countries: We urge all journos to speak up in defense of J Assange at this critical time. Dangerous times call for fearless journalism.#JournalistsSpeakUpForAssange.
World-wide journalists condemn court action against Julian Assange https://t.co/2SnV50TwVY
— ?Mary Kostakidis (@MaryKostakidis) February 20, 2020
It is nearly eight years since Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and a year since his imprisonment in the United Kingdom’s Belmarsh Prison for breaching bail.
In 2006 he launched the Wikileaks website, which has published leaked and classified information from the U.S. government and other sources. Major instances include the Afghanistan and Iraq War Logs, and Cablegate. Assange collaborated with US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning on these leaks.The extradition case relates to indictments for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and espionage. Assange faces up to 175 years imprisonment if convicted of all charges. He has been accused by the American government of putting lives at risk.
Hero or villain?
Assange is a controversial figure for a number of other reasons. In 2010, Sweden issued an international arrest warrant for him in relation to sexual assault allegations; the charge has now expired. In 2016, the publication of Hillary Clinton’s private email archive blotted his copybook in the eyes of many progressives, who accused him of doing Russian President Putin’s dirty work and of helping to elect Donald Trump. Assange denies these accusations.
But many netizens dismiss attacks on Assange and Wikileaks. Some believe that what is paramount are the principles involved, not Assange’s character:
“Everyone has a view on Assange. But, frankly, our views should be irrelevant. We, the public, are not in the know. We’re easily manipulated. We can be wrong.” #FreeAssange #DontExtraditeAssange #auspol https://t.co/QGVr2YBuE9
— ?fladdle (@fladdle) February 29, 2020
Others refuse to support him for a range of reasons:
Assange deserves no respect, he lost it when he helped Trump get elected.
— Nathan Lewandowski (@NamerElodin) March 6, 2020
Assange is no Saint. He's put lives at risk with his actions. Due process is important, 100%, but let's not ignore the bad shit wikileaks has done putting entire families at risk in places like Iraq. Unforgivable.
— Rantomon (@Rantomon) March 5, 2020
Former Australian ambassador to Israel and now government backbencher, Dave Sharma, has joined numerous politicians who have little time for Assange. Greg Barns, a human rights advocate and advisor to the Assange team, recently took Sharma to task:
@DaveSharma This is not an either/or proposition. #Assange must be supported as must other Australians detained overseas @AssangeCampaign Imprisoned academic deserves more sympathy than Assange, Sharma says https://t.co/SdF9rZATHW
— Greg Barns (@BarnsGreg) March 2, 2020
There is a small group of pro-Assange members in Australia’s federal parliament. Opposition backbencher Julian Hill backed the ‘other Julian’ in a House of Representatives speech:
They imprison and torture Julian Assange to silence him. I spoke up for his rights today … and the lights in Parliament literally go out…? pic.twitter.com/5T2zehSarU
— Julian Hill MP (@JulianHillMP) February 26, 2020
Campaigning to #FreeAssange
There has been a worldwide resurgence of protest meetings and demonstrations. New Zealand academic Alex Hill is an activist who coordinates Candles4Assange:
120 events being held this week for @DEAcampaign
with 35+ ONGOING weekly or fortnightly events worldwide
(25 cities in Germany!) @Candles4Assange
24 FEB 2020 (37 cities in 22 countries)
? @Pamariki + @GreenweaverArch pic.twitter.com/QtGPesJXei
— Antiwar☮AlexHills?? (@GreenweaverArch) February 27, 2020
Catalan separatists, Assemblea Nacional Catalana, posted the photo at the top of the story on Flickr. It depits a protest in Barcelona on February 24. Part of the caption reads: “L’Assange va donar suport a l’autodeterminació de Catalunya: ara som nosaltres qui li’n donem!” (“Assange supported the self-determination of Catalonia: now we give it to you!”).
Guatemalan lawyer Renata Avila (a member of the Global Voices community) reported from the fourth day of the hearing about the latest issue involving Assange’s treatment in the judicial system:
Summary of #Assange extradition case today: the accused cannot “hear” the arguments and the Judge refuses to fix it: he just wants to sit next to his lawyers. Globally reasonable. She refused. She even threatened to extend the process. Due process? Or punishment by process?
— Renata Avila (@avilarenata) February 27, 2020
This follows earlier claims by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, that Assange “has been tortured & continues to be tortured” in Belmarsh Prison.
There are numerous Facebook pages such as Free Julian Assange and tens of thousands of Instagram posts petitioning for his release.
Chelsea Manning attempted suicide
Meanwhile, Chelsea Manning was reported to have attempted suicide in the US prison where she is being held, after refusing to answer questions before a grand jury about Assange:
This is devastating news. Chelsea Manning should be freed immediately! #FreeChelseaManning #FreeAssangeNOW https://t.co/P2c8QWghPa
— Ayrton Evans ⏳? (@AyrtonEvans_) March 12, 2020
In a later development, a court has ordered her release as the grand jury has been disbanded. Wikileaks has responded:
The WikiLeaks Grand Jury running 10+ years has been disbanded. Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond have been released from its coercive machinations. Now drop all charges against #julianassange and release him. pic.twitter.com/qoHuUvvFcg
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) March 13, 2020
Phillip Adams from Brisbane started an online petition in 2018 which has over 365,000 signatures. It calls on Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Prime Minister Scott Morrison to defend Assange: ‘Julian Assange is an Australian Citizen and as such it is the fundamental responsibility of the Australian Government to protect and ensure his human rights are not violated and to this end the Australian Government has failed.’
The radio broadcaster and media personality of the same name is also in Assange’s corner urging everyone to do more:
In The Weekend Australian Magazine today by @PhillipAdams_1
“It is we who are guilty of treason, treason against our principles. Not Julian Assange “#FreeAssangeNOW #DontExtraditeAssange pic.twitter.com/zRjxPtBqSA
— People For Assange (@people4assange) February 28, 2020
The extradition hearing resumes in May.