Assange Walks Free After 6 Years

28 Jun 2024, 49 mins ago

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has dominated headlines since 2010 after publishing classified US military files exposing US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He became a fugitive cause célèbre as he evaded rape allegations in Sweden in 2017 and sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London from fear of extradition to the US. However, when Ecuador revoked his asylum in 2019 and the UK arrested him for failure to surrender to Sweden, the US formally sought his extradition on 18 charges relating to the obtaining and publication of sensitive intelligence. This move was seen by many as an attack on press freedom.

This begs the question: why is he dominating the headlines once again? This is because in 2021, a UK court allowed Assange to be extradited to the US. However, in May 2024, Assange was granted permission to appeal against the extradition order. The UK High Court had previously sought assurances from the US Government that Assange would: i) not be given the death penalty if found guilty; and ii) not be prejudiced at trial on account of his Australian nationality and would be able to rely on a First Amendment defence, in keeping with Article 10 ECHR – the right to freedom of expression. Those assurances were provided by the US Government, though, in respect of the second set of assurances, the UK High Court decided that they could not be relied upon and so granted permission to appeal.  

Striking a plea deal, Assange was convicted under the Espionage Act and after being given a short sentence which accounted for the time already served in UK prison, has now returned to Australia.

While Assange walks free, the case lingers: was he a courageous whistleblower exposing the US government’s wrongdoing or a reckless actor jeopardising national security? Where is the line between a free press and government secrets? One thing is for certain: Assange’s case sparks a fierce debate between a government’s transparency and accountability.

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