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A ‘dark day for press freedom,’ campaigners declare as Home Office agrees to extradite Assange to US

CAMPAIGNERS, politicians and academics condemned today Home Secretary Priti Patel’s decision to extradite journalist Julian Assange to the US as a “dark day for press freedom and British democracy.”

The WikiLeaks founder has 14 days to appeal Ms Patel’s decision to send him to the US where he is facing charges for exposing the country’s war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr Assange has been held in Belmarsh prison in London for nearly three years after he was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in the capital.

His wife Stella has pledged to fight the decision with “every available avenue” and warned that Mr Assange had recently told her he planned to kill himself if he was extradited.

Don’t Extradite Assange campaign group warned that Mr Assange’s freedom is “coupled to all our freedoms” and promised to fight for the freedom of expression.

It said in a statement: “This is a dark day for press freedom and for British democracy.

“Anyone in this country who cares about freedom of expression should be deeply ashamed.

“It was in Priti Patel’s power to do the right thing. Instead, she will forever be remembered as an accomplice of the US in its agenda to turn investigative journalism into a criminal enterprise.

“Foreign laws now determine the limits of press freedom in this country and the journalism that won the industry’s most prestigious prizes has been deemed an extraditable offence and worthy of a life sentence.”

The group said that the US’s revenge for Mr Assange’s publication of its wrongdoings is to “try to disappear him into the darkest recesses of their prison system for the rest of his life to deter others from holding governments to account.”

Peace and Justice Project founder and MP Jeremy Corbyn tweeted that the decision was “utterly wrong and marks a very dark day for press freedom and the justice system.”

The former Labour leader promised to keep fighting to free Mr Assange.

Labour MPs Richard Burgon and Zarah Sultana also called it an attack on press freedom, with independent MP Claudia Webbe saying it is an attempt to “intimidate and silence journalists from speaking the truth.”

Author John Pilger wrote: “Either we raise our voices as never before, or our silence colludes in the death of a heroic man.”

France’s Jean-Luc Melechon has said that if he is PM on Monday after the weekend’s elections he will grant Assange citizenship.

“If I am Prime Minister on Monday Julian Assange will be made a naturalised French citizen and given a medal,” he told a press briefing.

Economist, academic and Greece’s former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said: “Another bleak milestone on the road leading to Julian’s extermination for the crime of letting us know of the war crimes Western governments perpetrated behind our backs but in our name.”

Rapper and activist Lowkey said it was “hard to see this decision as anything but a death sentence.”

National Union of Journalists general secretary Michelle Stanistreet warned that any journalist who attempts to expose government criminality and wrongdoing will fear the same consequences.

She said: “Priti Patel had the opportunity to show humanity, and a respect for free expression. I regret that she has chosen not to.”

WikiLeaks chief editor Kristinn Hrafnsson accused Ms Patel of “disagreeing with every major human rights organisation on the planet.”

He told the BBC’s World At One programme: “This is a disappointment, but it doesn’t come as a big surprise.

“This is Boris Johnson, basically siding with those powers who are holding this political persecution against Julian Assange and against journalism in general.”

International Federation of Journalists president Dominique Pradalie slammed the as “vindictive,” warning that it was a real blow to media freedom as Ms Patel had set a terrible precedent for all those who are daily fighting to tell the truth.

She said: “Assange has simply exposed issues that were in the public interest and the failure of Priti Patel to acknowledge this is shameful.”

US campaign group Assange Defence Committee co-chairs Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg and Alice Walker also released a statement condemning the decision.

They said: “The US government argues that its venerated constitution does not protect journalism the government dislikes, and that publishing truthful information in the public interest is a subversive, criminal act.

“This argument is a threat not only to journalism, but to democracy itself.

“The UK has shown its complicity in this farce, by agreeing to extradite a foreigner based on politically motivated charges that collapse under the slightest scrutiny.”

Amnesty International secretary-general Agnes Callamard said the group was concerned that Mr Assange faced a high risk of prolonged solitary confinement if he was extradited, which would violate the prohibition on torture or other ill treatment.

Ms Assange said: “Julian wants to live but he wants to live with the possibility of freedom and the possibility of being with his children and with me.

“He has reasons to fight while he’s here — if he’s extradited to the US, the conditions he will be under will be oppressive.”

She said the appeal would include evidence that the CIA had previously tried to kill her husband.

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