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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 10/4/20

Julian Assange's Extradition Hearing: The Only Just Outcome Is His Freedom

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From Popular Resistance

Julian Assange -- A Hero of Free Press and Democracy
Julian Assange -- A Hero of Free Press and Democracy
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The testimony portion of the extradition hearing of Julian Assange, taking place in the United Kingdom, concluded after four weeks. Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who presided over the hearing, will not announce her decision until January. Until then, Assange will remain in detention in Belmarsh Prison.

Under conditions that violated Assange's rights and his ability to defend himself, his legal team made a clear case that for multiple reasons the only just solution is to free Assange. However, Judge Baraitser has not ruled favorably for him in her past decisions or even in this hearing.

At the start, Assange's lawyers requested a delay until January because they had not been able to meet adequately with him. Their request was denied. During the hearing, Assange was forced to sit in a glass box without access to his lawyers.

Over the past four weeks, people demonstrated their support for Julian Assange outside Old Bailey, where the hearing was held, and around the world. Almost 200 lawyers and politicians from 27 countries, including 13 past and present heads of state, demanded his immediate release. We must continue to raise awareness and public pressure to free Assange.

Press Freedom Under Attack

The persecution of Julian Assange matters to all of us because this is bigger than Assange. He is being targeted and tortured for doing what every honest journalist and publisher does -- reporting the truth and informing the public about what is being done by their governments and corporations.

Many media outlets, especially if they conduct investigative journalism, provide tools and information for people to leak information to them. The difference with Assange is that he created a tool, Wikileaks, that could be used by everyone around the world to leak information anonymously and to read information that had been leaked. Wikileaks verified the information and redacted portions that could result in personal harm, but other than that the information was freely available to the public. Assange is a strong believer in transparency and our right to know.

This is what outraged the power structure. They could not control access to information. They could not stop people from learning about their war crimes and corruption. So they have been waging a war on Assange ever since in multiple nefarious ways and so far he has survived. But this is too much for one person to have to bear. That is why we need to rally around Assange. One way to do that is to support the fund created by his partner, Stella Morris.

Kevin Zeese, the now-deceased co-director of Popular Resistance, was a supporter of Julian Assange. He served as an adviser to the board of the Courage Foundation, which runs Defend Wikileaks. In this 2018 interview with Elizabeth Lea Vos, Kevin explains why Assange's case is critical:

    "Julian Assange's case is the John Peter Zenger case of the twenty-first century. John Peter Zenger was a publisher who was prosecuted before the American Revolution because he published articles that were critical of the British-appointed governor of New York. They weren't false, they were just critical. In those days, there was no defense to slander as far as telling the truth goes. You say something bad about the government or the king, you get punished for it. Zenger's lawyers decided to use a defense that had not been used before, which was to go right to the jury, avoid the judge and show that Zenger was publishing the truth. Zenger was found not guilty by the jury very quickly after having been held in jail for eight months and undergoing abuse. People see that case as where a lot of our freedom of the press rights come from and the concept that truth is a defense. Julian Assange is revisiting that issue now in the twenty-first century when we have a lot of different technology that allows for truth to be told. Wikileaks is a major breakthrough in how journalism works and what information we are allowed to see. It is unacceptable that the most important publisher in this century is silenced. Whether or not you like Assange personally, the work he has done is critical to our future."

Why Julian Assange Must be Freed

During the extradition hearing, multiple reasons for freeing Assange and dropping the charges against him were explained. Any one of them should be enough to stop this persecution, but taken together, they demonstrate undeniably that extradition to the United States would violate Assange's rights and that he has not committed a crime.

1. Julian Assange has been denied his right to a fair trial. While in prison, Assange had limited access to his lawyers. They were only able to speak occasionally over the phone and with a bad connection. Assange's lawyer, Mark Summers, argued that Assange "alone has the knowledge to build a defense." And, Assange had not been able to read new charges made against him nor had his lawyers had time to prepare a defense to those new charges. And his hearing was structured so the public and press had extremely limited access. This is unacceptable for a case of such significance. Similarly, Assange would not have a fair trial if he were extradited to the US.

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Margaret Flowers, M.D. is a pediatrician from Maryland who is co-director of Popular Resistance and coordinator of Health Over Profit for Everyone Campaign.

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