Is It Time To Free Julian Assange?
The U.S. State Department is pushing to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from Britain. The US seeks extradition for Assange over his involvement regarding the leak of "classified information," which includes vast troves of confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic cables. Among the records was evidence of US war crimes, the exposure of war crimes changed the way large segments of the population worldwide viewed the US infamous war on terror, Afghanistan war, and Iraq war. While Assange did not leak or obtain any information himself, media outlets and academics elevated his persona as the face of Wikileaks. The US government claims Wikileaks and Assange put lives in danger by sharing the leaks, however, they have not provided enough evidence to prove so.
Why has he spent so much time in an embassy and now jail?
Assange was accused of rape in Sweden which prompted the series of events that led to him spending at least 9 years under house arrest, self-incarceration, and jail. The rape charges against him were eventually lifted in 2019. In 2011 he was placed under house arrest, he skipped bail and attempted to flee the UK fearing extradition to the United States, due to the draconian US prison system that allows torture and executions. During his attempt to flee the UK he was granted asylum by Ecuador whose embassy he sought refuge. However, UK authorities surrounded the embassy and refused to allow him to passage in diplomatic vehicles, trapping him for several years inside.
Why do people dislike him if he exposed war crimes?
Initially, he was given a wide net of support from all over the world and respect. Especially for being the face or spokesperson for Wikileaks which became intertwined with his persona over time instead of the work or material.
Wasn't he a Russian spy?
Much of his visible support disappeared due to his online presence, combative personality, and alleged ties or sympathies with the Russian Kremlin. He fell from "grace" during the 2016 US election period after being encircled by a network of Kremlin leaning influencers and propaganda. There is no public evidence that Assange was a Russian spy.
Didn't he help Donald Trump?
While living in the Ecuador embassy Assange and his network released nearly 20,000 DNC and Clinton campaign emails alleged to have been hacked by Kremlin operatives. The leak is suspected to have been an active measures operation to elect Donald Trump who has deep ties to the Kremlin and organized crime. As Assange's links to Kremlin social and media networks grew, they lost Wikileaks a lot of legitimacy in the public eye, ultimately hurting his support base and the trust in the valuable information it hosted. While the Wikileaks 2016 election interference debacle significantly helped Trump find "legitimacy" the former US President Trump remained ungrateful to Assange. The significant loss of public support and trust led to tougher pressure by vengeful US authorities who renewed their calls to extradite him.
What happens to Assange now?
In January 2021, a U.K. judge blocked Assange’s extradition, citing serious mental health concerns. Julian Assange faces up to 175 years in prison if taken to the U.S., where he was indicted for violations of the Espionage Act related to the publication of classified documents exposing U.S. war crimes.
Recently a former key witness in the case against Assange alleged during a media interview he was forced or coerced to make up evidence against him. According to Assange's family in an interview with reporters, Assange is a victim of “an abusive process” meant to punish him for his "journalism". His fiancé has also pleaded via media interviews for Joe Biden to drop the charges on Assange. His father has also said, “The situation there is really dire, and Julian is suffering inside that prison.” Both Assange's fiancee, as well as the UK judge overseeing the US extradition request, have said he may not survive the stress of being sent to the US.
Some observers have said, that "While Assange has a lot to answer for and has remained a controversial figure for over a decade, the treatment and harassment by US authorities is unwarranted and an abuse of power." Meanwhile, nobody in the top echelons of the US government involved in war crimes or abuses of power, including those exposed by Wikileaks, has been charged.