Julian Assange fiancée ‘equally appalled’ by Biden and Trump’s efforts to extradite WikiLeaks founder to US

·5 min read
Julian Assange extradition attempt started by Donald Trump but continued by Joe Biden (AFP via Getty Images)
Julian Assange extradition attempt started by Donald Trump but continued by Joe Biden (AFP via Getty Images)

The fiancée of Julian Assange has said she is “equally appalled” by the efforts of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden, to try and force the WikiLeaks founder to America to face espionage charges that carry penalties of 175 years.

Stella Moris, the mother of two of Mr Assange’s children, has been helping coordinate her partner’s legal defence as he fights an extradition attempt that was initiated by the Trump administration.

When Mr Biden was elected last year, supporters of Mr Assange urged the new president to drop the charges and end the extradition. There was anger among many when it became clear Mr Biden did not intend to do so.

Last month, lawyers for the US government, appealing an earlier ruling against extradition, argued before British judges that Mr Assange would not be held in a “SuperMax” prison if he was sent to the US for trial, and that special assurances would be made in regard to his mental health. They also said he could serve the bulk of any sentence in Australia.

When they addressed the court, lawyers for Mr Assange pointed to a recent report by Yahoo News that suggested the CIA had plotted to kidnap and even kill the WikiLeaks founder while he was in Britain. A ruling is expected shortly.

“The Biden administration has different factions within it,” Ms Moris told The Independent, in an interview. “There are elements of it, the security complex, who want Julian to be in prison for as long as possible, and they don’t care why. They just want him silenced. And that is the definition of political prosecution.”

She added: “And there are other elements that understand the grave danger this poses to the First Amendment.”

Asked if she felt more let down by Mr Biden than she did by Mr Trump, she said: “I feel equally appalled by both of them.”

In contrast to Mr Trump, who repeatedly denounced the media as purveyors of “fake news”, Mr Biden has claimed to respect the press, and has been applauded for doing something as simple as restarting daily briefings with the White House Press Secretary.

But Ms Moris said it was not as simple as that.

“The Biden administration needs to live up to what it says,” she said.

“It says it supports press freedom. It says that it defends global media freedom while this case the worst attack on media freedom, because it’s an extraterritorial application of the Espionage Act.”

British court to decide whether Julian Assange sent to US (Getty Images)
British court to decide whether Julian Assange sent to US (Getty Images)

Speaking from Glasgow, where she has been highlighting what she said was WikiLeaks’ long record of publishing important information about the climate crisis and the role of the fossil fuel industry, Ms Moris said the attempt to extradite Mr Assange was not the first effort by the US authorities to “criminalise journalism”.

She said 50 years ago, the US Supreme Court ruled to permit the New York Times and the Washington Post to publish the then-classified Pentagon Papers, which revealed how the government had repeatedly lied about the war in Vietnam.

“That decision left open the possibility that journalists could be prosecuted after the fact,” she said.

“Now, there’s no precedent at the moment, but this is the first time they have moved to indict a person for receiving information from a journalistic source possessing that information and making it available to the public. This is what they have had in mind for for a long time.”

Supporters of Mr Assange say he is being punished by the US for exposing what they consider war crimes that took place in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, during the so-called war on terror.

The 50-year-old Australian was arrested in April 2019 having spent five years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London after he sought political asylum. He fought extradition to Sweden where police said they wanted to investigate him over two accusations of sexual assault. Mr Assange has denied the claims and said he believed he would be taken to the US.

After a change in the leadership of Ecuador, Mr Assange was told he could no longer stay there and jailed by a British court for 12 months for skipping bail. The US then announced 18 charges against Mr Assange, one of trying to gain access to a Pentagon computer and 17 under the 1917 Espionage Act.

The White House did not respond to enquiries. A spokesperson for the US Department of Justice said the department did not wish to comment.

Ms Moris said she believed if the courts ruled in Mr Assange’s favour, he would feel safe enough to live in Britain. The government of Mexico has said Mr Assange would be welcome there.

While she declined to identify them, Ms Moris said other nations had expressed political support for Mr Assange.

How optimistic was she the court would rule in his favour?

“I think it would be completely inconceivable for the UK courts to agree to extradite Julian to the country that is now known to have been plotting to kill him,” she said.

“The evidence of the abuse of this case is overwhelming and the more time passes, the more is exposed about the incredible criminality that has been directed against Julian. I just cannot envision the courts would allow this to go on. It’s just so out in the open now.”

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