Stella Assange: « Julian Assange was punished so that no one dares to do like him »
Born in South Africa as Sara Gonzales, international lawyer and now married to the co-founder of WikiLeaks in 2022, Stella Assange is fighting against the journalist’s extradition to the United States. A decision that Great Britain, where he has been imprisoned since 2019, in Belmarsh near London, validated last June. Julian Assange is being prosecuted by Washington for « espionage » and « conspiracy », and faces 175 years in prison. His offence? The dissemination, in 2010, of 700,000 classified documents on US military and diplomatic activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because, these revelations pointed to war crimes. The British High Court must rule in the coming weeks on the validity of the appeal brought by Julian Assange.
After a decade without freedom, how is Julian Assange doing?
The life of Julian Assange, detained in a high security prison in Belmarsh for more than three years (since April 2019 – Editor’s note), is hell on a daily basis. He spends twenty hours a day isolated in his cell although he has never been sentenced. Every day is a struggle for physical and mental health in a depressing environment. His condition is especially worrying since his mini-stroke, just a year ago, when he appeared on appeal. Between his placement under house arrest and his refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy, Julian has been deprived of his freedom since 2010. You have to realize the impact on his health, which has declined sharply over time. Given his condition, the need for physical activity is real, but he has still not obtained permission. However, the founder of WikiLeaks must fight a titanic battle against the first world power, being bound hand and foot. Julian is only allowed to see his children (aged 5 and 3 – editor’s note) and myself twice a week for an hour and a half. He can also call us.
Julian Assange’s lawyers have appealed to the UK High Court against his extradition to the US signed by ex-Home Secretary Priti Patel in June. What about?
At the moment, we are waiting for the High Court to tell us when a hearing could take place. This should validate or not this new procedure in December. But since she has no obligation to accept it, she can give her opinion later and drag out the case. We must remain optimistic and I hope that the High Court will correct the injustice. However, I have my doubts. If his case were not political, Julian Assange would have already won. British justice has failed in its duty of independence and to guarantee a fair trial. The outcome of this procedure will be played out before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), even if the British authorities and the government try to withdraw from the European judicial system and the ECHR. This could remove the last possibility of appeal, the last guarantee for people whose rights are violated, within the European area of the Council of Europe.
The appeal you have filed relates to the abusive and political nature of the procedure launched by the United States and British authorities. Is this a turning point in view of the first hearings, which focused on the administrative aspect?
This appeal aims to highlight the political motivations of the procedure and the monstrous abuses used by the United States to imprison a journalist indefinitely for what he published. I remind you that he risks 175 years in prison in the United States for « espionage » and « conspiracy » after the disclosure in 2010 of documents on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan (1), relayed by several newspapers including the « Guardian » and the « New York Times ». The call could finally focus on the publications of Julian Assange which embarrass the United States government. Because he revealed crimes, which were deliberately kept secret, such as in Baghdad in 2007 (air raid on civilians) or in Guantanamo prison with acts of torture. He was punished so that no one else would dare to do the same.
Since Julian Assange was taken into custody at Belmarsh, numerous abuses have been revealed against him during the proceedings. The most criminal took place during the tenure of former President Donald Trump. At the time, the director of the American intelligence agency CIA, Mike Pompeo, did not hesitate to plan the assassination of the journalist, who was taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy. How can we decide to extradite a journalist to a country that planned to kill him?
How is Julian Assange’s fight the concern of all citizens and journalists?
For starters, it has nothing to do with the United States. He is not an American citizen, he is Australian. The only thing WikiLeaks and Julian have done is publish documents relating to war crimes committed by this country in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the time of these revelations, he was in Great Britain. The proceedings brought against him have introduced a new paradigm, namely that borders no longer exist. Only power matters, and one state can now impose its will on another. Worse, it decides whether a journalist can publish his information freely. In Julian’s case, the United States is the superpower and the United Kingdom their willing accomplice. This case illustrates contempt for the law and sovereignty of another state. If they act like that with a journalist, they can do it with others. But other states can now use these same paradigms to attack journalists’ freedom of publication, including inconvenient investigations.
Do you feel more media coverage and solidarity for the fight that Julian Assange and his entourage are leading for his release?
With WikiLeaks, they suffered intense propaganda against them. But she has practically disappeared. Nils Melzer, United Nations special rapporteur on torture, has just published a book in which he nullified the accusations made against Julian Assange (2). It is a work of the same scope as Zola’s J’accuse. Alas, it does not yet have a significant media echo. A documentary, « Hacking Justice » (3), was also released on this case. In London, on October 8, the huge human chain around the British Parliament in Westminster was a success. Such a demonstration would never have been possible a few years ago. Solidarity for Julian has gained in importance and the silence that surrounded the affair at its beginnings begins to break. In a decade, I am convinced that this procedure will appear as the most serious and enormous political persecution of our time.
Is political asylum in France a solution?
This affair having a proven political character, it is necessary that the information pass in Europe and mainly in France, a country whose political weight is recognized as a leader of opinion on these questions. In this context, it is essential that parliamentarians in France take a public stand and press for his release. The question of granting political asylum in France falls within the competence of the President of the Republic. It is a political decision. In my view, Julian deserves to be awarded the title of honorary citizen because of the revelations of WikiLeaks on matters of national interest. In 2015, the site published seven top-secret documents detailing how the United States (NSA, CIA, government) has, since 2002, systematically spied on France’s economic interests. Some of the documents are shared with the “Five Eyes” partners, this group of English-speaking states that cooperate closely with the fifth, Washington (Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom). These telephone taps directly targeted the Élysée (Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande), ministers, senators, senior civil servants, the French ambassador to the United States. For all these reasons, granting him this title would be totally justified.