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UK: Assange extradition hearing a key test for justice

The US authorities must drop all charges against Julian Assange relating to his publishing activities, and the UK must reject the related US extradition request, Amnesty International said today as Assange’s extradition hearing resumes at the Old Bailey in central London.

The hearing - which is expected to last several weeks - will decide on the Trump administration’s request for Assange’s extradition to the US, where he faces a sentence of up to 175 years for publishing materials that document possible war crimes committed by the US military.

Amnesty will have trial observers remotely monitoring the extradition hearings.

Amnesty International’s Europe Director, Nils Muižnieks, said:

“This hearing is the latest worrying salvo in a full-scale assault on the right to freedom of expression. If Julian Assange is prosecuted it could have a chilling effect on media freedom, leading publishers and journalists to self-censor in fear of retaliation.

“The UK must abide by its obligations under international human rights law, which forbid the transfer of individuals to another country where they would face serious human rights violations.”

Journalistic work under threat

The US extradition request is based on charges that stem directly from the publication of classified documents as part of Julian Assange’s journalistic work with WikiLeaks. Publishing such information is a cornerstone of media freedom and the public’s right to access public interest information, and must be protected rather than criminalised.

In the US, Assange could face trial on 18 charges - 17 of them under the USA’s Espionage Act, and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. He would also face a real risk of serious human rights violations, including detention conditions that could amount to torture or other ill-treatment, and the possibility of prolonged solitary confinement. Assange is the first publisher to face charges under the Espionage Act.

The fact that Assange was the target of a negative public campaign by US officials at the highest levels undermines his right to be presumed innocent and puts him at risk of an unfair trial.

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