The former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis today visited Julian Assange in the Belmarsh prison prior to the extradition of the American founder of WIkileaks.
Assange, 48, faces the American government tomorrow at Woolwich Crown Court, just a stone’s throw from the infamous South East London prison called ‘the British Guantanamo Bay’.
US officials want Assange to be transported across the Atlantic on espionage, which has a maximum of 175 years in prison, for publishing classified military intelligence.
Varoufakis said outside of Belmarsh: “What we have is an attack on journalism … The only indictment of Julian, hidden behind the nonsense of espionage, is an indictment of journalism.”
The Greek economist joined Assange’s father John Shipton on Sunday afternoon for a support rally for the prisoner. Shipton has been noisy in condemning his son’s treatment and claiming that sending him to the US would be a “death sentence.”
Julian Assange’s father, John Shipton and former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis leave Belmarsh prison after a visit to Julian Assange, today in London
Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, 48, in a prison van, when he leaves Southwark Crown Court in London last May
Assange has been charged in the US for 18 charges for the publication of classified documents.
Prosecutors say he conspired with army information analyst Chelsea Manning to hack a Pentagon computer and release hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables and military files about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Shipton was noisy in condemning his son’s treatment and claimed that sending him to the US would be a “death sentence”
American authorities say that the activities of WikiLeaks endanger American life. Assange states that he acted as a journalist who was entitled to protection from the First Amendment, and says that the leaked documents uncovered the US military crime
Among the files published by WikiLeaks was a video of an Apache helicopter attack in 2007 by US forces in Baghdad in which 11 people were killed, including two Reuters journalists.
Journalist organizations and groups of civil liberties, including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, say that the charges against Assange create a hair-raising precedent for press freedom.
The legal saga of Assange began in 2010, when he was arrested in London at the request of Sweden, who wanted to question him about allegations of rape and sexual abuse by two women. He refused to go to Stockholm and said he feared extradition or illegal extradition to the United States or the American prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Assange’s father John Shipton and former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis arrive in Belmarsh prison
Varoufakis is speaking outside of Belmarsh today, surrounded by activists fighting Assange’s rendition
In 2012, Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy, where he was out of reach of the British and Swedish authorities.
For seven years Assange led an isolated and always surrealistic existence in the small embassy, which occupies an apartment in a luxury block near the department store of ritzy Harrod. He was confined to the building and occasionally came to a small balcony to address supporters, and received visits from celebrities such as Lady Gaga and the ‘Baywatch’ actress Pamela Anderson.
Assange speaks on the balcony of the Embassy of Ecuador in London in May 2017
The relationship between Assange and his hosts was eventually soured and he was deported in April 2019. The British police immediately arrested him for jumping bail in 2012.
Sweden dropped the investigation into sexual crimes in November because so much time had passed, but Assange remains in London’s Belmarsh prison while waiting for a decision on the American extradition request.
Proponents say the trial has damaged Assange’s physical and mental health, causing him to become depressed, have dental problems and has a severe shoulder condition.
Assange remains a hero to his followers all over the world. But many others are critical of the way WikiLeaks has published classified documents without editing details that could endanger individuals. WikiLeaks has also been accused of serving as a channel for Russian misinformation, and Assange has alienated some supporters by contacting populist politicians, including Brexit promoter Nigel Farage.
The Assange legal team insists that the American case against him is politically motivated. His lawyers say they will present evidence that the Australian was granted grace by the Trump government if he agreed to say that Russia was not involved in leaking emails from the Democratic National Committee published by WikiLeaks during the 2016 American election campaign.
ssange speaks on the balcony of the embassy of Ecuador in London in May 2017
Followers of Julian Assange are organizing a demonstration on 22 February 2020 in London
Assange’s lawyers say the offer was made in August 2017 by then Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who claimed to act on behalf of President Donald Trump.
The White House has called the claim “a complete fabrication and a total lie.” Rohrabacher acknowledges having discussed the Democrat leak with Assange, but denies offering the President’s grace.
An end to the saga could take years. After a week of initiating arguments, the extradition case must be ended until May, when the two parties will present their evidence. It is expected that the court will only rule a few months thereafter, with the losing party likely to appeal.
If the courts approve extradition, the British government has the final say.
The case comes at a delicate moment for transatlantic relations. The United Kingdom has left the European Union and would like to conclude a trade agreement with the US
Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood joins protesters to participate in a ‘Don’t Extradite Julian Assange’ protest rally from Australia House to Parliament Square in London, UK, February 22, 2020
Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange arrives in Westminster Magistrates Court in London last April
But relations between Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s conservative government and the Trump government have been pressured by the British decision to defy Washington and give the Chinese company Huawei a role in building the UK’s telecommunications infrastructure.
Anand Doobay, an extradition lawyer at the Boutique Law firm, said the Assange saga was an unusual, hard-to-predict case.
“There are few issues that raise this type of problem, where there are likely arguments about the actual crimes he is accused of and whether they constitute a crime in both countries,” he said. “There are arguments about his treatment regarding the fairness of his trial, the circumstances in which he will be detained, the reasons why he is being prosecuted, his activities as a journalist.”