WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson has said that Julian Assange is facing “political persecution” for “doing his job as a journalist,” and vowed to fight his extradition to the US.
Speaking to reporters outside Westminster Magistrates Court, Hrafnsson said that Assange’s removal from the Ecuadorian embassy – where he had been seeking asylum for almost seven years – “sets a horrible precedent.”
“A journalist is facing political persecution for doing journalism,” Hrafnsson added. “If this goes forward, no journalist anywhere in the world will be safe from extradition to the United States for doing his job.”
Although Assange was arrested and found guilty of failing to surrender to bail in 2012, he is also facing extradition to the US for his role in publishing a trove of classified documents leaked by US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning in 2010, including alleged war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The US Justice Department formally announced conspiracy charges against Assange on Thursday, alleging that he conspired to “commit computer intrusion” with Manning. Assange himself did not actually hack into any US military computers. Rather, he published the classified information that came from Manning.
“Since 2010 we’ve warned that Julian Assange would face prosecution and extradition to the United States for his publishing activities on WikiLeaks,” his lawyer Jennifer Robinson told reporters. “Unfortunately today we’ve been proven right.”
Robinson said that Assange will fight extradition to the US, while Hrafnsson said that he is worried American authorities might slap Assange with additional charges under the Espionage Act. The US Justice Department expects to bring additional charges against Assange, CNN reported, citing unidentified sources.
Assange was kicked out of the Ecuadoran embassy after his political asylum granted in 2012 was revoked by the Ecuadoran government. Carlos Poveda, a member of the international team of lawyers helping Assange, said Ecuador violated his client’s rights with a flawed procedure that didn’t give him a chance to appeal.
“Last Friday we asked the Ecuadoran Foreign Ministry if a procedure to review or revoke the political asylum was underway. We didn’t get a response,” he told RT Spanish. Poveda added the rules require that a person who is about to be stripped of political asylum can personally make his case before the officials making the decision, which never happened in Assange’s case.
Assange is currently in custody, awaiting sentencing on the British charges next month. He faces a maximum penalty of one year in prison. The United States, meanwhile, must produce its case for Assange’s extradition to British authorities by June 12.
Supporters, whistleblowers, and activists have condemned Assange’s arrest. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden called it a “dark moment for press freedom,” while former MI5 agent Annie Machon called it “absolutely disgusting” and “an egregious violation of so many rights under international law.”