As it seems inevitable that the UK will extradite Julian Assange to the US to face espionage charges, a rally to support the Wikileaks’ editor is planned to take place in Boston on Friday.
New Englanders concerned about the treatment of Julian Assange, the founder of the radical news site Wikileaks who is currently in custody in the UK awaiting extradition to the US under espionage charges, will gather as part of a “First Night Against the Wars” event at Boston’s Copley Square on the afternoon on December 31. The gathering will take place between 2 pm-3:30 pm.
“Or longer, if people want to stay,” event organizers said in a statement.
The organization behind the rally, Assange Defense Boston, is affiliated with The Courage Foundation, an international organisation that “supports those who risk life or liberty to make significant contributions to the historical record.” The foundation raises funds for the legal and public defense of people who fit this criteria who are facing prosecution or persecution.
“Julian Assange had a mini-stroke on October 27, the second day of the hearing about whether the UK would accept the US appeal of their decision not to extradite him,” Assange Defense Boston said in a statement on its website announcing the rally, and added that since then, the UK has announced that extradition proceedings will go forward.
“This decision and [his] stroke are just what we have been fearing,” the organization added. “The Assange defense team is appealing, of course, but even if they win, it will take more time during which he will remain in prison [and] in failing health. We call on the Biden administration to stop following in the footsteps of Donald Trump and drop this unfair prosecution.”
A Decade of Confinement
A native of Australia, Assange initially lost his freedom in 2012 when he took refuge in the Embassy of Ecuador in London to avoid deportation to Sweden, where he faced sexual harassment charges. Assange and his supporters claimed that this was a pretext for Sweden to extradite him to the United States to face charges related to his role in the publication of secret American documents by Wikileaks.
Those charges were dropped in 2019, with Sweden saying their evidence had “weakened considerably due to the long period of time that has elapsed since the events in question.” Shortly afterwards, however, Assange was arrested by UK authorities in the Ecuadorian embassy, after Ecuador withdrew his asylum. He was eventually sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for breaching the Bail Act, and while serving time for that conviction, the US began attempts to have him extradited to face espionage charges.
The US’s charges against Assange are primarily centered around the publication of secret and confidential information Wikileaks published after leaks initiated by Chelsea Manning (then Bradley Edward Manning), and later leaks from Edward Snowden.
Manning, who leaked 750,000 classified, or unclassified but sensitive, military and diplomatic documents while serving in the US Army in 2010, was court-martialed and spent seven years at Leavenworth, before being released in 2017 after President Obama commuted all but four months of her remaining sentence.
Snowden, who had been employed by the National Security Agency, leaked secret NSA documents after quitting his job and fleeing the country, ending up in Russia which eventually granted him asylum, and later permanent residency status.
Support for Assange
Although public sentiment about Assange is mixed, usually diverging along party lines, mainstream media in the US and UK largely supports Assange’s release on First Amendment and freedom-of-the-press grounds. In addition, media outlets often point out that the Espionage Act is usually used to go after US employees who have leaked sensitive information under their care, and that use against against journalists is unusual.
Some also see a degree of hypocrisy in the government’s actions against Assange, given the known atrocities committed by the US military and government contractors during the constant wars the US has been fighting over the past two decades. The UK-based Guardian pointed to this two weeks ago in an editorial calling for Assange’s release.
“As Agnès Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International, has noted: ‘Virtually no one responsible for alleged US war crimes committed in the course of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars has been held accountable, let alone prosecuted, and yet a publisher who exposed such crimes is potentially facing a lifetime in jail,” the Guardian said.
The list of news organizations calling for Assange’s release is long, and includes The Washington Post, The New York Times, as well as various press freedom organizations in the US.
In 2019, when the US added to the charges Assange was already facing, the Associated Press observed: “The case presents immediate questions about media freedom, including whether the DOJ is charging Assange for actions — such as soliciting and publishing classified information — that journalists do as a matter of course.”
Boston’s ‘Free Assange’ Rally
The rally in support of Julian Assange will take place on Friday, December 31, 2021 from 2:00 until 3:30 pm at Copley Square, 230 Dartmouth Street, in Boston, Massachusetts.
Free Assange Boston asks those who are planning to attend to RSVP through the rally’s “event” page on Facebook.
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