Britain would be on more solid ground to campaign against authoritarian regimes if it urged the Biden administration to drop its call for the extradition of Julian Assange for espionage, said Stella Moris, Assange’s partner, at the Guardian.
Moris – who has two children with Assange – is trying to expand the campaign of support on his behalf by highlighting the global damage done to the UK’s reputation by keeping him in prison for so long.
In an interview to coincide with the second anniversary of her detention in Belmarsh High Security Prison in South East London, she says: “Julian’s treatment is constantly compromising the UK all over the world. This gives authoritarian governments a chance to score all over the world, both privately and in international fora like the UN. You can’t start a new Chinese values contest with Julian Assange in Belmarsh for the war crimes publication. It just doesn’t work. You don’t get to take the high moral level with this as a starting point.
“Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, said the difference between China and the US is that China puts its critics in jail. I am not sure the UK government is aware of the amount of international criticism it faces on this issue, or the damage it is doing to its reputation as a soft power. It is a tool to hit the UK over and over again. It’s the perfect answer for authoritarian leaders when criticized by the UK or pressed to release political prisoners: “What about Julian Assange? “
She said the British Foreign Office was waging a major global campaign for press freedom, while keeping Assange in jail. “All the major human rights groups – Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders – are on the same page on this issue.
Moris describes Britain as caught up in a highly political affair launched by the Trump administration as part of its war on journalism – a war that has never had much support in the United States.
So far, the new Biden administration, much to Moris’ disappointment, has said it will appeal the UK court’s February decision to deny extradition on the grounds that Assange’s sanity meant qu ‘there was a real risk that he would commit suicide in the United States. prisons. The court rejected most of the free press arguments presented by Assange’s lawyers to reject the extradition. He also refused Assange’s bail.
But Moris is hopeful that new U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland – who has a solid track record on First Amendment issues – will revisit the Assange case. Moris asserts that “this is seen in the United States as a prosecution of the Trump administration led by Mike Pompeo. They said they wanted a head on a pike.
The Obama administration, no fans of Assange, chose not to prosecute him, saying they couldn’t find anything that didn’t come back to news gathering and that if they did charge him, they would have to blame others. organizations that had published the same material, such as New York. Times and the Guardian.
Moris says the pressure is real on the Biden team from civil liberties groups. New supporters appear all the time. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, herself released from an Iranian prison and according to Moris, Assange’s cousin, has joined the ranks to demand her release.
She says the court was right to be concerned for her well-being in a US prison given her mental health history, including the professional medical diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, presented in her case as an obsession and incapacity. to understand how others might think.
Moris says, “The prison system in the United States is atrocious. Every day, around 80,000 people are placed in solitary confinement. He is at risk of suicide, which means they would keep him under constant surveillance. He is a high level national security prisoner, so they would keep him away from others.
If the United States appeals for his extradition, it is likely that Assange’s lawyers could cross-appeal some of the press freedom issues raised but dismissed. The consequences for journalism are significant, argues Moris, including for British journalists who report sensitive information about foreign powers.
But the danger for Assange’s team is that he will be left in limbo, neither released nor extradited, as the case drags on. The case has been going on for so long that Boris Johnson probably feels little domestic political pressure on the matter – it’s not an issue that seems to be animating the Labor Party under the leadership of a former Director of Public Prosecutions – and if anything occurs once every three months to generate media interest, the Home Office may release a line recorded for years.
She said she spoke to Assange on the phone most of the time. “We have to talk about the case sometimes but he likes to hear about normal life and the kind of escape it gives him. The prison, especially under Covid, is all-encompassing. You have no power to do anything. There is no agency, no autonomy. It’s your whole world, so it’s important to take your mind out of it. This is such a fucked up situation. Winning your case doesn’t seem to matter.
“Sometimes I have to hide how much of an emotional struggle it is, I have good days and bad days, but I think the trajectory has to be that he’s going to be released, and it has to happen soon. But yet, he’s still in there.