UNITED STATES: Joe Biden has been accused of hypocrisy for asking for the release of journalists imprisoned around the world while the US president continues to seek the extradition of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, from Britain to face American espionage charges.
Friday’s meeting of the Belmarsh Tribunal, an impromptu gathering of legal professionals and supporters named after the London prison where Assange is being held, marked a new step in the fight to persuade the Biden administration to dismiss the charges.
The hearing took place in the same location where Assange unveiled the “collateral murder” video showing US aircrew shooting down Iraqi civilians in 2010—the first of thousands of leaked classified military documents and diplomatic cables that were published in well-known newspapers all over the world.
The revelations regarding US involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including allegations of war crimes as well as US diplomats’ candid appraisals of their host countries, created great embarrassment in Washington.
As the founder of WikiLeaks was not a spy but a publisher and journalist protected by free speech rules, the tribunal heard that the accusations against Assange represented an “ongoing attack on press freedom.”
Srecko Horvat, the co-chairperson of the tribunal and the founder of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, quoted Biden from the 2020 presidential campaign calling for the release of jailed journalists worldwide, quoting the late president Thomas Jefferson’s maxim that “our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
“President Biden is normally an advocate for freedom of the press, but at the same time, he is continuing the persecution of Julian Assange,” Horvat stated, warning that continuing the prosecution might set a negative example for other governments.
Assange is accused of 18 offences related to the disclosure of secret material by WikiLeaks, which was largely made possible by a leak by Chelsea Manning, a former US army intelligence analyst.
Manning was given a 35-year jail term but was later freed in 2017 after President Barack Obama commuted it. In her testimony, Manning stated that she did not give the information to WikiLeaks at Assange’s behest but rather on her own initiative.
The WikiLeaks dossier, which included proof of war crimes and human rights violations, was reportedly accurate, according to the tribunal.
Assange, a polarising figure, has clashed with many of the journalistic organisations with which he has worked, including the New York Times and the Guardian.
He lost some support when, in 2012, he violated the terms of his release and went to the Ecuadorian embassy in London to hide out in order to escape being extradited to Sweden to answer questions about claims of sexual assault.
Assange was charged by the US Justice Department in 2019 after the Ecuadorians kicked him out of their embassy.
Assange’s father, John Shipton, denounced his son’s “continuous malicious abuse,” which includes the circumstances of his detention in Britain.
He argued that the UK’s handling of the issue was “an embarrassment” and detracted from its reputation as a supporter of the rule of law and free speech.
The tribunal also heard from Jeremy Corbyn, a former leader of the British Labour Party, who said that Assange’s protracted prosecution would make all journalists afraid to divulge secrets.
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