Reporters Without Borders seeks freedom for Julian Assange as he turns 50

International media freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has launched a campaign calling for freedom for imprisoned journalist and whistleblower Julian Assange who is about to turn 50 while still jailed in the UK.

As a part of campaign, the organisation aims to collect a selection of messages for his birthday, through the use of the hashtag “#AssangeWeek”.

Supporters are invited to generate their own supportive tweets through a button published by RSF.  These and others will be collected, printed, and delivered to him in Belmarsh prison on 3 July, his birthday.

Prior to his arrest in the UK, Assange was holed up at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. In 2012, he was granted asylum by Ecuador until his protection was withdrawn in 2019. British police then entered the embassy and arrested him for breaching bail conditions in 2012. He has been kept at maximum security Belmarsh Prison since.

RSF International Campaigns Director Rebecca Vincent said: “Julian Assange’s continued arbitrary detention as he begins another decade is a blight on the US and UK’s press freedom records. Let this be the last birthday he spends in prison. Join our call to #FreeAssange.”

In January 2021, Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected the United State’s request for extradition due to his mental state. She also rejected Assange’s request for bail.

The judge said that he would be “prompted to flee” and that “in the interests of fairness she should give the US government chance to appeal.

Several international organisations have joined campaigns calling for his freedom amid concerns that his mental health was deteriorating rapidly and that he could have been exposed to torture and inhumane conditions.

In January, at the time of the court’s decision, Vincent spoke of her disappointment at the rejection  Describing it as “unnecessarily cruel”.

“While his mental health problems formed the basis for the denial of the extradition request, prolonged detention will only exacerbate them, not to mention that his physical health also continues to be at risk. The move is the latest in a long line of excessive crackdowns against Mr Assange,” she said in a statement.

It was also noted that this decision could set a concerning precedent for journalism and press freedom. RSF, the only NGO attending the Assange trial hearings, said there were “serious dysfunctions which marred the proceedings”.

Assange is wanted in the US for publishing hundreds of thousands of US military reports between 2010 and 2011. The leak, named Wikileaks was embarrassing for the US as it included damning information on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as internal diplomatic communications.

The leak became one of the most famous in the world and information from it was published by major international media.

It included a US military video that showed an attack by a US Apache helicopter in 2007 that killed civilians and two journalists from Reuters. The leaks provided evidence that the US Government intentionally misled the public about the war in the two countries, and committed war crimes.

The US filed 17 charges against him including conspiracy to hack US databases and the publication of sensitive information.

Assange was then accused of rape, sexual molestation, and unlawful coercion in Sweden in 2010.  This happened after the Wikileaks leak. The charges were largely believed to be fabricated in order to achieve extradition to Sweden, which would then extradite him to the US. The charges were dropped in 2019.

In 2020, the US Department of Justice issued an additional charge, bringing the total to 18. This broadened the scope of the hacking allegations. The indictment which is “highly unusual” and supersedes the others, widens the “scope of the conspiracy”, according to RSF.

If convicted, he faces up to 175 years behind bars.

The process to appeal the ruling not to extradite him could take years, meaning Assange will remain in prison until it is concluded.

                           
                               
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