The first week in June marked the 10-year anniversary of the publication of the first of Edward Snowden’s sensational revelations, when The Guardian published its first exclusive based on Snowden’s leaks, revealing a secret court order showing that the US government had forced the telecoms giant Verizon to hand over the phone records of millions of Americans.
It was the first of many landmark revelations which exposed the extent of surveillance undertaken by security agencies, including the US National Security Agency and GCHQ, its British counterpart.
Assange’s appeal rejected
Fast forward ten years to last week, when ironically Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder and former editor-in-chief, learned that his appeal against extradition to the United States had been rejected by the High Court. High Court judge Mr Justice Swift handed down a judgement on 6 June rejecting all the grounds of his appeal against the US’s extradition order signed by then UK home secretary Priti Patel last June, who was recently made a dame commander in Boris Johnson’s honours list.
In response Assange’s wife, Stella Assange, said in a statement issued on 8 June on Twitter that her husband would make a “renewed application for appeal to the high court” on Tuesday 13 June and:
“… We remain optimistic that we will prevail and that Julian will not be extradited to the United States where he faces charges that could result in him spending the rest of his life in a maximum security prison for publishing true information that revealed war crimes committed by the US government.”
Press freedom organisations weigh in
Journalist and press freedom organisation were quick to join in the condemnation of the decision. The International and the European Federations of Journalists (IFJ-EFJ) issued a statement saying that they were “appalled” by the decision, which they believe brings Assange closer to being extradited to the US where, if found guilty, he could spend the rest of his life in jail.
Reporters Without Boarders (RSF) said: “… It is absurd that a single judge can issue a three-page decision that could land Julian Assange in prison for the rest of his life and permanently impact the climate for journalism around the world. The historical weight of what happens next cannot be overstated; it is time to put a stop to this relentless targeting of Assange and act instead to protect journalism and press freedom.
“Our call on President Biden is now more urgent than ever: drop these charges, close the case against Assange, and allow for his release without further delay.”
Assange has paid a high price
In April, RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire and director of campaigns Rebecca Vincent were arbitrarily denied access to visit Assange in Belmarsh high security prison in southeast London, where he has been held on remand for more than four years.
Whistleblowers such as Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning have paid a high price for their actions, yet they are key to exposing illegality and corruption. After all, democracy depends on this kind of information no matter how uncomfortable – it’s in the public interest.