Wednesday, October 20

What is Wikileaks? What did Julian Assange do? Why does the United States want to extradite him?

The past decade has been a long one for Julian Assange, who discovered on Monday that he had overcome the first hurdle to reject a request for extradition from the United States.

His case, however, is not over yet, and the United States is ready to appeal the London Old Bailey ruling.

So for anyone reads this story, or for those who need to catch up, here’s everything you need to know about the 49-year-old Australian, his founding of Wikileaks, and the battle against extradition.

What is Wikileaks?

Wikileaks was created in 2006 as a platform for anonymous whistleblowers who want to share top-secret data and information.

Founded by Assange, it divided opinion around the world: Many, on the one hand, argued that Wikileaks provided groundbreaking investigative journalism, while the other said it posed a risk to national security.

What kinds of things has Wikileaks released?

The website has released an enormous number of documents, known as data or information dumps, in its 15 years of operation.

Some of the most famous are 400,000 secret military documents related to the war in Iraq and another 90,000 in Afghanistan.

In 2010, the platform released the now infamous “Collateral Murder” video, which shows soldiers in a US Apache helicopter killing a dozen people on the ground in Baghdad, including two Reuters journalists.

What happened to Assange?

Swedish authorities issued an arrest warrant for Assange in 2010 on charges of rape and sexual assault.

He was later detained in the UK, where he was living at the time, and awaited the outcome of an extradition request to face charges in Sweden.

However, two years later, Assange skipped bail and sought asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he would spend the next seven years.

By then, the United States had launched an investigation into the release of the secret documents related to Iraq and Afghanistan and then sought to press charges and extradite Assange from the United Kingdom. Those charges included 17 for espionage and one for computer misuse “for cracking a password” with US whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

Manning, a former US military intelligence analyst, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for her role in the leaks, but eventually served seven when former US President Barack Obama commuted her sentence. She was later sent back to prison in March 2019 for refusing to testify against Wikileaks and her release was ordered around a year later.

Meanwhile, relations between Assange and Ecuador had begun to deteriorate, amid accusations by President Lenin Moreno of “repeated violations” at the embassy. It resulted in the eviction of Assange, and was filmed in April 2019 being taken out of the building.

He was then taken to Bears Prison after being found guilty of skipping bail and pending a request for extradition from the United States and remains there to this day.

Sweden dropped the rape case in November 2019.

What happened in the extradition case?

After a four-week hearing, Judge Vanessa Barrister ruled on January 4 that Assange should not be extradited to the United States.

She accepted the defense team’s case that it would be “oppressive” to allow Assange to be sent to a solitary confinement facility in the United States considering the state of his mental health.

Assange, now the father of two, is said to have experienced suicidal thoughts in Bears and was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and depression. The court also heard during the ruling how the 49-year-old had planned the end of his life.

Noting this, Barrister said Assange seemed like a “depressed and sometimes desperate man” who would be at high risk of suicide. She said she believed he had the “intellect and determination” to bypass suicide protection measures if he so desired.

What happens now?

Assange has been returned to Bears and a full application for his bail will be submitted on January 6.

Attorneys acting on behalf of the US now have 14 days to file an appeal, which they are expected to do.

Is this a victory for press freedom?

Not really. In her ruling, Judge Barrister upheld most of the prosecution’s arguments for extraditing Assange, which included saying that he could not trust the protections of free speech and freedom of the press.

She said this was because several of his actions had been out of the reach of a journalist and, had he been prosecuted in the UK, they would have violated the Official Secrets Act.

Thus, the case was completely dependent on Assange’s mental health, and it is what ultimately tipped the decision in his favor.


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