Sunday , May 19 2024

Stella Assange vows to fight on ahead of crucial court date


LONDON: In a week’s time, WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange could be on a flight to the United States at the end of his years-long legal battle to avoid extradition. Whatever happens, his wife Stella vows the fight for his freedom will go on?

At a hearing at London’s High Court on Monday which Assange plans to attend, judges are expected to give a ruling on whether to accept US assurances which would pave the way for him to be sent across the Atlantic to face 18 charges, nearly all under the Espionage Act.

“It’s impossible to really prepare for this moment. What I do feel is that anything could happen, that Julian could be very close to being freed, or he could be very close to being put on a plane and never seeing freedom ever again,” Stella Assange told Reuters in an interview.

The High Court’s decision could bring down the curtain on the Australian-born Assange’s legal battles in Britain that have been going on for more than 13 years since WikiLeaks burst onto the world stage with details from what was the biggest security breach of its kind in US military history.

If the judges agree to the extradition, only an intervention from Europe could block it.

“Unless the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) puts a stop to it, and they’re able to act in time, and we’re able to file in time, all these ‘ifs’ then Julian could be on a military jet to the United States, a week from now,” said Stella, who added she had “a lot of faith” in the ECHR.

As the clock ticks down to Monday’s hearing, she said her husband was very stressed and had trouble sleeping, while it was a very difficult time for her and their family.

“My heart is preparing for the win but I have to keep my head focused on the fact that he’s very close to being extradited,” she said.

She said she had not told the couple’s two children, now aged 7 and 5, about the extradition, saying she would not want to “inflict the uncertainty and the prospect of them losing their father forever”.

“All they know is that he shouldn’t be in prison and that we’re fighting to get him out,” said Stella, a lawyer who met her husband when she joined his legal team more than a decade ago. Assange has spent the last five years in Belmarsh maximum security jail, a bleak modern prison in a remote area of southeast London, where the couple married in a 2022 ceremony attended by just four guests, two of whom were guards.

For the seven years before that, he was holed up in cramped conditions in the Ecuadorean Embassy in central London where he fled to avoid extradition to Sweden over sex offence allegations which were later dropped.

He had always argued that if extradited to Sweden he would then be sent to the United States over WikiLeaks’ release of hundreds of thousands of secret documents and diplomatic cables.

After being dragged out of the embassy in 2019 and jailed for skipping bail, the US did begin extradition proceedings.

The US authorities say his actions were reckless, damaged, national security, and endangered the lives of agents.

His many supporters say the prosecution is a travesty, an assault on journalism and free speech, and revenge for causing embarrassment to Western governments.

Stella would not be drawn on US reports that a plea bargain deal was possible, simply saying the US should drop the prosecution. Should he lose on Monday, her fight, as it has for the last decade, will continue.

“I’ll do whatever I can, and our family is going to fight for him until he’s free.” (Int’l Monitoring Desk)

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