Julian Assange lodges legal claim to demand that US charges raised against him be unsealed

Julian Assange
Tom Coburg

Lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange have filed an urgent application to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), based in Washington DC. It directs the Trump administration to unseal charges secretly filed against him. They’re also asking the commission to compel Ecuador to cease espionage activities against Assange, to stop the isolation imposed on him, and to protect him from US extradition.

The urgent request is a 1,172-page application for “precautionary measures”. It’s directed to the international body that monitors US and Ecuadorian compliance with their binding legal obligations.

Assange obtained political asylum at Ecuador’s embassy in London in August 2012. This followed calls to extradite him to the US because of his work as a publisher and editor. So Baltasar Garzón, the international coordinator of Assange’s legal team, is requesting the IACHR intervenes in favour of Assange.

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But the Trump administration is refusing to reveal details of the charges raised against Assange. This is despite the fact that sources in the US Department of Justice have confirmed to the Associated Press and the New York Times that Assange has been charged under seal.

Legal submission

According to a statement provided to The Canary by WikiLeaks, the legal submission states:

The revelation that the U.S. has initiated a prosecution against Mr. Assange has shocked the international community. [The US government] is required to provide information as to the criminal charges that are imputed to Mr. Assange in full.

The submission reveals, for the first time, that federal prosecutors have in the last few months formally approached people in the US, Germany and Iceland to press them to testify against Assange, in return for immunity from prosecution. Those approached are associated with WikiLeaks‘s joint publications with other media outlets about US diplomacy, Guantanamo Bay, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The joint publication effort between WikiLeaks, the New York Times, McClatchy, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the UK’s Channel 4, Al Jazeera, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, El País, The Hindu, and Reuters, among others, won numerous journalistic awards. It also created the collaborative model subsequently used for other large disclosures such as the Panama Papers.

Dangerous precedent

The Trump administration has been intensifying efforts to prosecute Assange via the Grand Jury against WikiLeaks, which has been empanelled in the Eastern District of Virginia since 2010.

Trump’s administration has been plagued by leaks of classified information in its first two years. It’s clearly intent on using the prosecution of Assange as an “icebreaker” to set a dangerous precedent. This could enable the prosecution of larger media organisations, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, AP, CNN and NBC, which routinely obtain and publish information from classified sources.

Intervention

The IACHR, which is the equivalent of the European Court of Human Rights, will intervene if it considers that actions by the US and Ecuador give rise to an urgent, serious situation that will cause irreparable harm to Assange.

The application by Assange’s lawyers identifies a raft of legal obligations that the US and Ecuador are flouting in their treatment of Assange. His lawyers document the Trump administration’s attempts to pressure Ecuador to hand over  Assange. These threats have significantly increased since WikiLeaks published the Vault 7 documents from the CIA. This was the largest leak of CIA classified information in history, which the US government claims were provided by a young CIA officer, Joshua Schulte.

Gagging order

The application also highlights espionage operations against Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Allegedly, the specialised security services contracted by Ecuador have spied on Assange and his visitors, instead of helping to protect the asylee.

Among the serious actions denounced in the legal application is Ecuador’s executive gag order against Assange and its interference with Assange’s access to his lawyers. This affects his right to a legal defence:

Ecuador is required to end the regime of isolation imposed on Mr. Assange, suspending the application of the so-called special protocol and guaranteeing his rights as an asylee will be respected in full.

In December 2018, the New York Times reported that Ecuador’s new president, Lenín Moreno, tried to negotiate handing over Assange to the US in exchange for “debt relief”.

In relation to the US, the submission highlights the serious implications for media freedom from the unprecedented attack on the right to publish truthful information (as is represented by the sealed US process against Assange and WikiLeaks).

Freedom

In December 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, together with the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, called on all states to implement the Working Group conclusions of 2016 to set Assange free, adding:

It is time that Mr. Assange, who has already paid a high price for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of opinion, expression and information, and to promote the right to truth in the public interest, recovers his freedom.

Should the US proceed in prosecuting Assange, this not only bodes ill for mainstream media outlets that collaborated with WikiLeaks but also for all media outlets that aim to expose government corruption and wrong-doing generally.

Featured image via Serg Hoholok/Flickr

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