Lawyers and academics call on Government to free Julian Assange

17 August 2020, 09:10

Assange is fighting to avoid being sent to the US to face 17 charges under the Espionage Act and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion
Assange is fighting to avoid being sent to the US to face 17 charges under the Espionage Act and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Lawyers and legal academics have called on the Government to end extradition proceedings against Julian Assange and release him from prison.

The Wikileaks founder is fighting to avoid being sent to the US to face 17 charges under the Espionage Act and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion after the publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents in 2010 and 2011.

In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Home Secretary Priti Patel, 169 individuals and international legal organisations called for the Government to intervene.

If extradited, campaigners said the 49-year-old will face a "show trial" in the US.

They added he has been subject to surveillance which violates his right to a fair trial.

"We call on you to act in accordance with national and international law, human rights and the rule of law by bringing an end to the ongoing extradition proceedings and granting Mr Assange his long overdue freedom," the letter, signed Lawyers for Assange, reads.

The signatories include barrister Lord John Hendy QC and groups including the UK's Arab Lawyers Association as well as the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights.

The letter said the political nature of Mr Assange's alleged offences prohibits his extradition under the US-UK extradition treaty and that UK judges in his case have been subject to conflicts of interest.

They added Mr Assange is at risk of torture or cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment in the US, citing the potential 175-year sentence.

In June, more than 200 doctors from 33 countries signed a letter accusing UK and American officials of "intensifying Julian Assange's psychological torture" in The Lancet.

Mr Assange has been held in Belmarsh Prison in south east London, awaiting proceedings after serving a 50-week sentence for breaching his bail.

In the letter, Lawyers for Assange said this was an "irregular and disproportionate sentence" and stressed the need for his release given the Covid-19 pandemic and his health.

Campaigners also said Mr Assange's extradition would endanger the freedom of the press.

The letter said: "The extradition to the US of a publisher and journalist, for engaging in journalistic activities while in Europe, would set a very dangerous precedent."

In July, dozens of press freedom, human rights and privacy rights organisations co-signed an open letter to the UK Government calling for Mr Assange's immediate release from prison.

Mr Assange's extradition hearing, originally set for May, was postponed as a result of the coronavirus lockdown measures and was rescheduled for September 7 at the Old Bailey.

Last month supporter and fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood called efforts to extradite Mr Assange a "stitch-up".

Dressed in canary yellow and suspended in a giant birdcage outside the Old Bailey, Dame Vivienne said: "Julian Assange is in a cage and he needs to get out. Don't extradite to America.

"I'm wearing yellow because he still hasn't had any sun. A canary is a beautiful thing and wants to fly."

The open letter comes after the US made a fresh extradition request with a third version of the charges against him on Friday.

Lawyers for the Wikileaks founder are now to decide whether to seek a further delay to his extradition battle.

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