Britain’s stance when campaigning against authoritarian regimes would be more solid if it stood up to the Biden administration and its calls for Julian Assange to be extradited on espionage charges, Stella Moris, Assange’s partner and the mother of his two sons, told the Guardian.
In a sit-down that fell on the second anniversary of his detention in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison, Moris charged that the WikiLeaks founder's treatment is “compromising the UK constantly”.
“It’s giving authoritarian governments points to score all round the world both privately and in international fora such as the UN. You cannot start a new values competition with China while Julian Assange is in Belmarsh for publishing war crimes,” she explained, adding there is no way a country can take the moral high ground with Assange’s imprisonment as “a starting point”.
She went on to quote US national security adviser Jake Sullivan as saying that the difference between the two top economies, the US and China, lies in the fact that Beijing “puts its critics in prison”. Moris believes Assange’s detention sets a precedent, against which other countries’ actions are assessed, and the UK authorities are seemingly unaware of the international backlash they are facing over the issue.
“It is the perfect response for authoritarian leaders when they are criticised by the UK, or pressed to release political prisoners, ‘what about Julian Assange?’” Moris told the Guardian.
She pointed to the UK Foreign Office’s inconsistency, since although it was running a major global press freedom campaign, it was also keeping Assange in jail.
“Every major human rights group – Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters without Borders – are on the same page about this issue,” she noted.
UK Implicated in US-Spearheaded Political Case, Moris Says
Britain ended up in thrall to the Trump administration-launched political case, which she claimed came as part of a broader anti-journalism campaign. “It’s seen in the US as a Trump administration prosecution driven by Mike Pompeo. They said they wanted a head on a pike,” Moris said.
Although certain hopes have been pinned on the new Biden administration, to Moris’s dismay, it said it would appeal against the UK court’s decision to refuse extradition on the grounds that Assange would be a high suicide risk if put in an American jail. The court turned down most of his lawyers’ free press arguments against extradition. Yet, bail was also refused the Wikileaks co-founder.
She made special mention of the fact that despite her partner’s case being in limbo, the court had rightful concerns about his mental health, including the official medical diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, depicted in his case as obsessiveness.
“The prison system in the US is atrocious. On any given day there are an estimated 80,000 people in solitary confinement. He is a suicide risk, which means they would keep him under constant watch. He is a high-profile national security prisoner so they would keep him away from others,” she noted.
Focus Press Freedom Arguments
Moris, a South African-born lawyer, said that in case the US does take further steps to have Assange extradited, his legal team, of which she is herself a part, will probably opt to cross-appeal some of the press freedom arguments put forward by his lawyers but rejected.
Award-winning journalist Julian Assange has been languishing in Belmarsh, in south-east London, since April 2019, indicted for his role in obtaining and publishing national defence cables from 2010 and 2011.
The latter accused the US forces of committing war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan, as well as a number of atrocities in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
A guilty sentence would put the 49-year-old behind bars for up to 175 years.
His extradition to the US was blocked by a London judge in January. Yet, Joe Biden’s administration plans to continue to seek to send the WikiLeaks creator back to the United States, and thus challenge the UK court’s ruling, the Justice Department said in a statement.