Assange trial approaches – Manning still in prison

IssueFebruary - March 2020
News by David Polden

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s full extradition hearing is scheduled for 24 February at Woolwich crown court in South London.

The investigative journalist was arrested at the Ecuadorean embassy last April, having spent seven years there after claiming asylum to avoid possible extradition to the US via Sweden.

Sexual assault charges Julian was facing in Sweden have since been dropped, but he has been kept in Belmarsh high security prison because of an extradition request from the US involving 18 charges relating to WikiLeaks.

Julian helped WikiLeaks to publish sensitive and classified documents, including over a million files leaked by US military whistleblower Chelsea Manning, many of them documenting war crimes.

Human rights organisations have raised concerns over the duration of Julian’s incarceration. In May, Nils Melzer, UN special rapporteur on torture, condemned the ‘deliberate, concerted and sustained nature of the abuse inflicted on Mr Assange’.

His last court appearance, on 16 January, was a 12-minute hearing. Julian spoke only to confirm his name and to say that he did not understand one element of the proceedings.

The hearing was then adjourned after Julian’s solicitor, Gareth Peirce, said she had been unable to spend sufficient time with her client to go through his evidence during a visit to HMP Belmarsh.

Chelsea won’t back down

Meanwhile, former army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning continues to be held in prison, racking up daily fines of $1,000 for contempt of court, because she refuses to give evidence against Julian Assange.

She has been in prison since March 2019 (apart from one week) – on top of the seven years she served for passing documents to WikiLeaks.

In November, the UN special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, wrote to the US government describing Chelsea’s treatment as ‘purely coercive’: ‘an open-ended, progressively severe measure of coercion fulfilling all the constitutive elements of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’.

Chelsea responded to the release of Melzer’s letter with a statement: ‘I am thrilled to see the practice of coercive confinement called out for what it is: incompatible with international human rights standards. Regardless, even knowing I am very likely to stay in jail for an even longer time, I’m never backing down.’