As published by the National Union of Journalists
At a cross party meeting in parliament, former foreign secretary David Davis MP described the treatment of journalist Julian Assange as an “atrocious breach of natural justice”.
The session in one of the House of Commons’ famous committee rooms, was an opportunity for politicians to hear directly from Stella Assange, partner of the incarcerated WikiLeaks journalist, Julian. The urgency around Julian’s situation was palpable as Stella articulately outlined how time is fast running out to prevent her husband’s extradition to the US on national security and espionage charges, facing 175 years in prison.
“Julian’s legal avenues have reduced dramatically,” explained Stella, going on to outline the current state of play facing “the world’s most famous political prisoner”. An application to appeal was rejected – by a single judge in a behind closed doors written judgement. An appeal against this decision now sits with a panel of two judges, but a positive verdict would not of itself prevent extradition, only allow Julian’s arguments to be heard at the High Court.
“It’s very disturbing that it’s been shut down like this,” said Stella.
“We hope the two-judge panel will reach a different conclusion, but if they don’t that is the end of domestic remedy. We would then go to the European Court of Human Rights. But we’re concerned the government may try to seize and extradite. Hopefully that’s unlikely but nevertheless it’s a real danger.”
Politicians from across the political spectrum were in attendance and spoke out against the treatment of Julian Assange, who has been held in Belmarsh high security prison since 2019.
Veteran Conservative MP David Davis expressed concern over Julian having any possibility of a fair trial. He suggested the United States was guilty of extending its remit over freedom of the press in the UK and of over-reach, calling Julian’s situation “an atrocious breach of human rights.” He went on to say – of the removal of first amendment rights (which guarantee freedom of expression) from Julian – “this is borderline racist – if you’re not American, you don’t get protections.”
Tim Dawson, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) deputy general secretary was excoriating about the damage Julian’s case is doing to press freedom and journalists’ safety across the world.
“The actions for which the US is attempting to prosecute Julian are ones that investigative journalists carry out every day. His persecution damages the moral standing of the UK and the US,” he said. He was damning of the UK government’s role, saying “our Government talks big about promoting free speech, free expression and free journalism around the world, while helping the US with this repressive act.
“In lots of countries there are journalists in prison, and they need the help of mature democracies to help free them. Being a journalist is a dangerous profession – the ongoing pursuit of Julain Assange makes it more so.”
Stella outlined the significant international support for releasing Julian, saying that the “biggest development” was in Australia, where polls show 89% of the public support Julian coming home. The Australian prime minister has taken up the cause, promising to raise this with the Biden administration and the UK, and across the Australian political spectrum there is support for Julian’s release. Latin American leaders have also been outspoken, calling for Julian’s release, and a progressive group of Democrats in the US have also written a joint letter.
At the end of June, Pope Francis granted Stella Assange and family members a private audience. While the contents of the meeting is confidential, Stella said she was very happy he had allowed the meeting to be publicised and that the Pope has shown ongoing support, having first sent a message to Julian in Belmarsh in 2021.
Politicians – including meeting organiser Richard Burgon MP – were keen to explore any other useful avenues to bolster support for Julian Assange. Campaigners are preparing for an online virtual rally, as well as asking supporters to be ready to join physical protests outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
Uncertainty around timings for the next steps have led the protest to be called ‘Day X’, with a plea for supporters to be poised ready to join protests when the date is known.
The NUJ has long campaigned for Julian Assange to be released and charges dropped. Journalism is not a crime.