Julian Assange Verdict: Deathbed For Freedom of Speech

ABSTRACT

There has recently been an increase in interest around extradition, particularly in light of the high-profile and troubling case of Julian Assange, who was extradited to the U.S on the basis of what turned out to be an ill-founded case. Julian Assange faces up to 175 years in prison in the U.S. for charged with hacking into government computers and violating the Espionage Act by unlawfully obtaining and disclosing the most important documents related to the national defense. Now he faces the case of extradition to the U.S.¬† On the first week of January this year, the Magistrate Court by the UK has given the judgment that Assange will not extradite to the U.S on the reason of his mental condition and refused his bail petition. It is really sad that the court ignored the ground of freedom of speech and expression which is not only the main norm of this case but also in international law.¬† This case is politically motivated because Assange hacked the most powerful government on earth in the U.S. because if the government, not the U.S but Russia then obviously the court dismissed the case for the reason of political motivation.¬† Assange revealed the secret information only for the public interest. The attack on Assange by the U.S is a great threat to freedom of speech and expression. This paper argues that: the ‚Äúcommittal stage‚ÄĚ of extradition proceedings, involving a judicial hearing into the basis of the case, is unfair and may not be compliant with the international law, and that the manner in which the Court conducts these proceedings contributes to this unfairness.

 

INTRODUCTION 

Julian Assange is an Australian hacker, famous for revealing USA secrets relating to war crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This whole information was published by Assange’s organization Wikileaks which disclosed the details of the brutal and ruthless murders of innocent people and captures thousands of innocent people in Guantanamo Bay Prison. A former US army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning help Assange to publish it which she had obtained this kind of information and passed to Wikileaks.

 

JULIAN ASSANGE VERDICT 

Assange was arrested by force at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and now faces extradition to the US on charges of illegally hacking from a government computer. The eighteen charges against Assange rise from the highly controversial and barbaric Espionage Act which was never before used against any media groups or publishers. Due to the fact that the Espionage Act has traditionally been used to frame charges against political criminals, this case seems to be a political one that could bar extradition. The Obama administration of the US rejected criminal charges against Assange claiming it would threaten freedom of speech. In Edward Snowden’s case, which including revealing the highly confidential information from the National Security Agency, was not charged by the government? The current Trump administration who previously admired Wikileaks for its publishing internal information against his rival Hillary Clinton but right now he supports the Criminal Charges against Julian Assange. Now Assange is facing a trial in the UK for the extradition to the US and the recent verdict from the Westminster Magistrate Court in London, UK judge ruling that he should not be extradited to the US. In the ruling, the Judge said Assange‚Äôs mental health problems meant that he would be at risk of suicide. Judge Vanessa Baraitser said, ‚ÄėI accept that oppression as a bar to extradition requires a high threshold. However, I am satisfied that in these harsh conditions, Mr. Assange‚Äôs mental health would deteriorate causing him to commit suicide with the single-minded determination of this autism spectrum disorder.‚Äô Though this same judge rejected Assange‚Äôs bail petition.

 

FREEDOM OF SPEECH AS A NORM OF INTERNATIONAL LAW

Article 19 of the Human Rights Act explains that everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and deliver information and ideas without interference by public authority. This Article shall not protect States from requiring the licensing of telecasting, television, or cinema enterprises. Freedom of opinion and expression are fundamental rights that contain both a personal and a social dimension. They are considered ‚Äėfundamental conditions for the full development of the person‚Äô and a foundation stone for every free and democratic society‚Äô (UN Human Rights Committee,2011 para.2). All kinds of communication are protected, including ‚Äú political discourse, commentary on one‚Äôs own and on public‚Äôs matters, canvassing, discussion of human rights, journalism, cultural and artistic thoughts, teaching and religious discourse‚ÄĚ (UN Human Rights Committee, 2011 para.11). ¬†¬†By reason of these frameworks, defamation and hate speech laws can be justifiable as preserving the honor and rights of others, so long overbroad. However, laws such as constrict door-to-door canvassing in an election or activities such as interrupting access to media sources are likely to violate the freedom of speech ( UN Human Rights Committee, 2011, para.37).¬†Governments should ensure broad access for journalists to sources of information of public relevance. Governments should protect and solve cases of harassment by power structures of the media and journalists. Access should be given security to state and non-state media equally and should confirm that citizens as members of the different origins and cultural groups played role in the society have the right and the opportunity to freely express their views and preserve their language and culture via media. (Bishkek Declaration: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)). That the criminal defamation laws constitute a serious violation of freedom of expression and obstructs the role of the media as a watchdog, preventing journalists and media practitioners to practice their profession without fear and in good faith;( Resolution 169 on Repealing Criminal Defamation Law in Africa by the African Commission on Human and Peoples‚Äô Rights – 24 November 2010).¬†

The right of expression may not be obstructed by indirect methods or means such as the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint, radio broadcasting constancy or resources used in the distribution of information or by any other means tending to restrain the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions (Article13, American Convention On Human Rights).   So, the extradition case by the U.S. to Julian Assange is violating human rights law and also international law.

 

Read More: How Propaganda and Disinformation Influence Altogether: The Ukrainian Social Landscape

 

JULIAN ASSANGE VERDICT: GOOD NEWS FOR DICTATORS?

Freedom of speech is suffering worldwide due to oppressive measures that are now following by many governments to control the media that reveal internal information against the governments. BBC reporter Orla Guerin faces Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev with critical questions about freedom of speech in his country. President Aliyev answered that in view of its treatment of Assange, the UK had no right to give advice to other countries on matters of human rights and freedom of speech. The act by WikiLeaks is a common part of journalism. If receiving and revealing information is taken into account of a crime then all the news agencies are criminal organizations. An attack on Julian Assange is an attack on the fundamental freedom of speech. If anyone should be charged for breach of security, it is Chelsea Manning because she revealed all secret information, not Julian Assange. He did not reveal information for personal gain. He only revealed information for the public interest. According to the Guardian’s editor, Katherine Viner, “State should never be used power to restrain the actions of whistle-blowers and investigative journalists following stories that are clearly in the public interest. The US extradition case against Julian Assange is a great threat to freedom of speech.

In the case of Tillack v. Belgium, App. No. 20477/05 Eur. Ct. H.R. (2007), In this case, the court “upheld the right of a German journalist working for Stern magazine to protect his sources concerning the articles he had published on alleged irregularities in state and in the European Union’s anti-fraud office, The court stated that “the right of journalists to preserves their sources is not a ‘mere privilege to be granted or taken away’ but that it is a fundamental foundation of the freedom of the press.”

Replying to the judgment by the UK court not to give permission to the extradition to Julian Assange to the US where he would meet the risk of ill-treatment in prison, Nils Muiznieks who is the director of Europe‚Äôs Amnesty International said: ‚ÄúThe fact that the ruling is right and rescue Assange form extradition, does not involve in this politically motivated process at the command of the USA and keeping Freedom of speech and opinion on trial. It has record a terrible precedent for which the US is liable and the UK government is a partner of crime.‚Ä̬†¬†¬†Many other politicians and many organizations expressed their disappointment with the judgments like¬†¬† Freedom of the Press Foundation also replying to the Judgment,‚Äô While the Judge‚Äôs opinion contains many worrying statements that disrespect the journalist‚Äôs rights, her disobeying the Trump administration‚Äôs extradition appeal means the US government likely won‚Äôt be able to achieve any precedent that would criminalize common newsgathering and news agencies.‚ÄĚUK Conservative MP David Davis said, ‚ÄúExtradition Treaties should not be used for political prosecutions.‚ÄĚ Former UK Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was ‚Äúalarming that the Judge has accepted US government arguments threatening freedom of speech and freedom to publish.‚ÄĚ ¬†¬†Noam Chomsky, MIT professor, and prominent US foreign policy critic said,‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúThat gives a certificate to use them next time the government wants to silence someone who is informing the public about state crimes that authorities would like to conceal.‚Ä̬†‚ÄúWe disappointed with the judge’s evaluation that this case is not politically motivated, that it’s not about free speech and expressions. We continue to believe that Mr. Assange was focused on his achievements to journalism, and until the underlying issues here are addressed, other journalists, sources, and publishers remain at risk,” said Rebecca Vincent, a campaigner at Reporters without Borders, outside London’s Old Bailey Court.1¬† ¬†

 New York Times Co. Vs United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971), and Bartnicki Vs Vopper, 632 US 514(2001), which held the publication of a news agency has stolen recording by a defendant who knew or had reason to know the recording was acquired wrongfully preserved by the First Amendment.

In Bank Julius Baer v. WikiLeaks,535 F Supp.2d 980 ( N.D. Cal.2008), many prominent news and nonprofit organizations, such as the Newspaper Association of America, the Associated Press, The Los Angeles Times, and the Society of Professional Journalists, signed an amicus brief in support of WikiLeaks.The organizations argued that WikiLeaks should be delivered preserves such as the freedom from prior obstruct and governmental injunctions that are emblematic given to mainstream news organizations.

Geoffrey R. Stone, in his masterful Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime, From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism, explains ‚ÄúTo keep the right balance, the nation needs such political leaders who know right from wrong, federal judges who will stand fast against the furies of their era, a judicious and responsible press, informed and tolerant citizens who will not honor only their own liberties, but the liberties of others and Justices of the Supreme Court with the knowledge to realize excess when they see it and the bravery to protect liberty when it is endangered and so we shall see‚ÄĚ.

 

CONCLUSION

Prosecution for a media organization for revealing beneficial information for the public interest is obviously harmful to freedom of speech and expression. If such a model is set, then the real death of honor for international law and freedom of speech and expression soon to come. The judge rejected that argument in her extradition ruling, saying Assange’s actions if proven, would amount to offenses “that would not be protected by his right to freedom of speech.” She also said the US judicial system would give him a fair trial. But the judge agreed that US prison conditions would be oppressive, saying there was a “real risk” he would be sent to the Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado. It is the highest security prison in the U.S. This is why every journalist, media organization, and defender of people‚Äôs right to know, regardless of how they personally feel about Assange, must strongly speak out against his charge. As the fact is that though it‚Äôs Assange who is right now in the hedge, it is freedom of speech that stands trial.

 

Writer

Salman Bashar

L.L.M, North South University

 

REFERENCES

  1. Prajaktan Pradhan, (2020), The Annihilation of International Law and the Right of Freedom Of Speech: Julian Assange, Gabrielle West/ U. Pittsburgh School Of Law, Us.
  2. Emiley Howie, (2017), Protecting the human right to freedom of expression in International Law, Taylor & Francis Online, Pages12-15
  3. Fifth Central Asia Media Conference ‚Äú Media In Multi-Cultural and Multi-Lingual Societies‚ÄĚ, Bishkek Declaration 17-18 September 2003, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe The Representative on Freedom of the Media (OSCE).
  4. International Standards On Freedom Of  Expression- UNESCO
  5.  Matthias Von Hein, (2021), Julian Assange: A test case for press freedom, DW
  6.  Stephen Rohde, (2021), The Prosecution of Julian Assange and the threat to Freedom of the Press and Human Rights, lare view of books.
  7. Molly Thebes, (2012), The Prospect of Extraditing Julian Assange, North Carolina Journal OF International Law And  Commercial Regulation, Volume 37, Article7.
  8. UK: Assange Extradition Welcome but exposes ‚Äúpolitically-motivated process‚ÄĚ, (2021), Amnesty International
  9.  Julian Assange Extradition Verdict: How the World Reacted, (2021), Aljazeera
  10. David Meyer, (2021), Why Julian Assange victory does little to help the cause of press freedom, Fortune

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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