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Old Bailey judge urged to decide against extraditing Assange

DOZENS of human rights and press freedom organisations are urging a British judge to decide against extraditing Julian Assange to the United States to face 18 charges under the Espionage Act.

The WikiLeaks co-founder is set to appear at the Old Bailey on Monday where District Judge Vanessa Baraitser will deliver her judgment.

Whatever the judgment, an appeal by the losing side is likely.

Mr Assange is accused of plotting with Chelsea Manning to hack computers and conspiring to obtain and disclose national defence information.

The case follows WikiLeaks’s publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents in 2010 and 2011 relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cables.

Assange’s lawyers have said that he faces up to 175 years in jail if convicted, although the US government claimed the sentence was more likely to be between four and six years.

Ahead of the judgment, WikiLeaks today called for the US to drop the charges, saying they are a “historic, large-scale attack on freedom of speech.”

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said that the US government should “listen to the groundswell of support coming from the mainstream media editorials, NGOs around the world such as Amnesty and Reporters Without Borders and the United Nations who are all calling for these charges to be dropped.”

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) called on the British government to make “a clear statement” that the prosecution of Assange would be “grievously damaging to media freedom.”

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “Whatever you think of Assange, he clearly brought important information to wide attention.

“Now he faces prosecution for actions that are commonplace for investigative journalists. If this prosecution is successful, it will chill the media worldwide.”

Other groups calling for his freedom include Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, the International Federation of Journalists and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Assange has been held in high security Belmarsh prison since he was carried out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London by police, before being arrested for breaching bail conditions in April 2019.

He had sought asylum in the embassy for seven years since entering the building in 2012 after exhausting legal avenues to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex offence allegations, which he has always denied and which were eventually dropped.

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