- Julian Assange pledged to fight extradition to the U.S. during a hearing Thursday, a move that will likely cause a lengthy legal battle to ensue.
- Assange has been accused of conspiring to hack Pentagon computers to leak confidential documents regarding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in 2010, for which he faces up to five years of prison.
- On Wednesday, Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks in a British prison for jumping bail in 2012 by seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in order to avoid separate extradition charges to Sweden for allegations of rape.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said he will fight extradition to the United States in a hearing Thursday, opening up the possibility of a complicated legal process that experts believe could take years.
“I do not wish to surrender myself for extradition for doing journalism that has won many, many awards and protected many, many people,” Assange told the Westminster Magistrates Court through VideoLink from prison.
During the short hearing, Judge Michael Snow told Assange he could consent to being extradited, but he refused. If he were to consent, Assange would lose his right to appeal. However, according to Snow, surrendering to extradition would speed up the proceedings and could result in an early resolution of his case.
Snow scheduled additional hearings for May 30 and June 12, telling Assange that his lawyers would receive the relevant paperwork from the U.S. after the extradition request is served. Snow also said he believed that the case will take “many months.”
The Case Against Assange
Ben Brandon, the lawyer for the U.S. government, outlined the charges against Assange related to what the U.S. Department of Justice has called “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”
The U.S. has charged Assange with conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of confidential documents and communications on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Those documents were then published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011. Assange faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for his involvement in the leak.
Manning has already served time in prison for violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses related to giving classified Pentagon materials to WikiLeaks.
The U.S. indictment is not the only charge that Assange is dealing with.
Just one day prior, Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for jumping bail in London in 2012. Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid being extradited to Sweden for rape allegations, which he has denied. Assange worried that if he were extradited to Sweden, they would then extradite him to the U.S.
Assange remained at the Ecuadorian embassy until his asylum was revoked and he was arrested by British authorities in early April. He appeared in court and was found guilty of skipping bail the same day.
During his bail hearing Wednesday, Assange claimed that he was functionally imprisoned in the embassy, and thus should not be required to serve time in prison. Judge Deborah Taylor, who oversaw the case, did not buy this argument.
“It’s difficult to envisage a more serious example of this offense,” Judge Taylor said, according to reports. “By hiding in the embassy you deliberately put yourself out of reach, while remaining in the U.K.”
To make matters even more complicated, Swedish prosecutors are considering the possibility of resuming the investigation into the allegations against Assange. This move could require British officials to deal with two competing extradition requests.
Support for Assange
Throughout this whole ordeal, supporters of Assange have remained fervent in their actions.
A small group of his supports congregated outside the courtroom on Thursday to protest his extradition to the U.S. and demand his release. WikiLeaks’ editor in chief Kristinn Hrafnsson has also condemned the extradition charges against Assange.
“What is at stake there could be a question of life or death for Mr. Assange,” Hrafnsson told reporters. “It is also a question of life and death for a major journalistic principle.”
Hrafnsson also criticized the state of Assange’s living conditions in Belmarsh Prison where he is being held.
“For the last weeks since he was arrested, he has spent 23 out of 24 hours a day in his cell most of the time,” Hrafnsson claimed. “That is what we call in general terms solitary confinement. That applies to most of the prisoners in that appalling facility. It is unacceptable that a publisher is spending time in that prison.”
This sentiment was echoed by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD). In a statement made Friday, WGAD said that they are “deeply concerned” about “disproportionate sentence” given to Assange.
The group argued that Assange’s human rights were being violated by his imprisonment in “a high-security prison, as if he were convicted for a serious criminal offense,” and concluded that the British government should release Assange and dismiss the charges against him.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (NPR) (The New York Times)
Biden Vows to Defend Taiwan if Attacked by China
Some praised the remarks for clarifying U.S. foreign policy, while others feared they could escalate tensions with China.
Biden’s Remarks Create Confusion
During a Monday press conference in Tokyo, U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would intervene to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.
The remark caught many off guard because it contradicted decades of traditional U.S. foreign policy toward China.
A reporter said, “You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”
“Yes,” Biden answered. “That’s a commitment we made. We are not — look, here’s the situation. We agree with a One China policy. We signed onto it and all the attendant agreements made from there.”
“But the idea that it can be taken by force — just taken by force — is just not appropriate,” he continued. “It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”
Beijing considers the Taiwanese island to be a breakaway province, but Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, has claimed to represent the real historical lineage of China.
Since 1972, the U.S. has officially recognized only one China, with its capital in Beijing. However, Washington maintains extensive informal diplomatic ties with Taipei and provides military assistance through weapons and training.
Successive U.S. presidents have also committed to a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” refusing to promise or rule out a direct military intervention in case China attacks Taiwan.
The strategy is meant to deter China while avoiding a hard commitment to any action.
Biden Sparks Controversy
The White House quickly sent a statement to reporters appearing to walk back Biden’s remark.
“As the president said, our policy has not changed,” the statement said. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”
Monday was not the first time Biden made similar remarks regarding China and Taiwan.
Last August, he promised that “we would respond” if there was an attack against a fellow member of NATO and then added, “same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan.”
In October, he again told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the U.S. would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, prompting the White House to hurriedly walk back his statement.
Monday’s remark was received with support as well as criticism.
“Strategic ambiguity is over. Strategic clarity is here,” Tweeted Matthew Kroenig, professor of government at Georgetown University. “This is the third time Biden has said this. Good. China should welcome this. Washington is helping Beijing to not miscalculate.”
“It is truly dangerous for the president to keep misstating U.S. policy toward Taiwan,” historian Stephen Wertheim wrote in a tweet. “How many more times will this happen?”
“The West’s robust response to Russian aggression in Ukraine could serve to deter China from invading Taiwan, but Biden’s statement risks undoing the potential benefit and instead helping to bring about a Taiwan conflict,” he added. “Self-injurious and entirely unforced.”
Biden also unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a trade agreement signed by the U.S. and 12 Asian nations.
The agreement appeared to many like another move to cut off China from regional trade pacts and supply chains in Washington’s strategic competition with Beijing.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (The South China Morning Post)
Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders
Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.
Azovstal Waves the White Flag
Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.
A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.
The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.
It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.
Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.
Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.
Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.
Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands
After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.
The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.
Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.
The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.
The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.
It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)
Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls
Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.
Hundreds Make It Out Alive
A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.
People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.
The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.
Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.
“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”
63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.
“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.
Putin’s Plans Go Poorly
In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.
On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.
The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”
Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.
After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.
“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.
On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.
Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.
The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”
“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.
Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.