- 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)
First Person Charged Under Hong Kong National Security Law Found Guilty of Terrorism and Inciting Secession
Dozens more are awaiting trial for breaking the controversial National Security Law, which is aimed at protecting Chinese sovereignty at the cost of basic freedoms within Hong Kong.
First Conviction Under National Security Law
The first person to be charged under Hong Kong’s extremely controversial National Security Law was found guilty of his crimes Tuesday morning.
A judge ruled that Tong Ying-kit was guilty of both terrorism and inciting secession after the 24-year-old failed to stop at a police checkpoint while on his motorcycle last July, which resulted in him eventually riding into police. At the same time, he was carrying a flag that said “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times.”
According to Justice Esther Toh, that phrase alone was capable of inciting others to commit succession, she also that added that Tong understood that the flag had secessionist meaning in an effort to set aside doubts that Tong understood the flag’s inherent meaning.
Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director said,“The conviction of Tong Ying-kit is a significant and ominous moment for human rights in Hong Kong.”
“Today’s verdict underlines the sobering fact that expressing certain political opinions in the city is now officially a crime, potentially punishable by life in jail,” she added.
More Convictions Expected Sparking Fear Over Erosion of Rights
A long string of convictions will likely follow Tong’s, as over 100 people have been arrested under the ambiguous law that criminalizes many forms of freedom of expression under the guise of protecting Chinese sovereignty. Of those arrested, 60 are currently awaiting trial, including dozens of pro-democracy politicians who have been accused of subversiveness for their calls to block the government’s agenda in the legislature.
That has drawn particular concern among international critics who fear the precedent that will be set once it’s clear to politicians that failing to rubber-stamp the Communist Party’s agenda will result in prison terms.
It’s widely expected that as more people are found guilty, the few remaining protections of the city’s Basic Law, a British common law-inspired mini-constitution, will be completely eroded.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (BBC)
Tunisian President Fires Prime Minister, Suspends Parliament Over Deadlock and COVID-19 Response
President Kais Saied claims his actions are constitutional and have the support of the military, which has already blocked off government buildings. His opponents, however, call the move little more than a coup.
President Makes Massive Changes to Government
Tunisia’s government received a major shakeup after President Kais Saied fired the Prime Minister and froze parliament late Sunday.
The move, according to Saied, was meant to break years of parliamentary deadlock between Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and various political parties that have sturggled to find common ground. However, the timing comes just after a massive protest over how the government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic turned violent earlier on Sunday.
Either way, the move risks sparking a confrontation between Saied —who is backed by the army — and various political parties that view his actions as a coup.
The President’s actions have proven cotnroversial. Despite that, he has widepsread support after being elected in 2019 on a platform to fight corrupt politicians.
After the announcement, tens of thousands have taken to the streets in support of his decision to dismiss the Prime Minister and parliament, with many cheering as he appeared among the crowd Sunday night.
In recent months, anger at the ruling government has only increased as many feel the ruling coalition, largely made up of the Islamist Ennahda (“Renaissance”) party, have been ineffective.
It’s a common belief in Tunisia that Ennahda’s rule, alongside its tenuous coalition, helped exacerbate problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the economy shrinking by 8% as tourism plummeted.
One of the President’s supporters told Reuters and other outlets during Sunday’s demonstration, “We are here to protect Tunisia. We have seen all the tragedies under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
He mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood, which had a strong presence in Egpyt after the Arab Spring, becuase Ennahda has longstanding relationship with the group, although it has sought to distance itself as a more moderate political group over the last few years.
Now, for their part, the ruling coalition has argued that Saied’s move is clearly unconstitutional. Rached Ghannouchi, leade of Ennahda and Parliamentary Speaker, said that he is “against gathering all powers in the hands of one person.” His position isn’t without supporters eithers. Both sides have already gathered throughout the capital and have thrown rocks at each other.
Legalities of Article 80
The question across many minds is whether or not Saied’s actions are actually constitutional.
He claims that under Article 80 of the constitution, he can fire the Prime Minister, suspend parliament for 30 days, and appoint a premier to rule — all of which is true.
However, in order to do that, the Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Speaker need to be consulted; something Parliamentary Speaker Ghannouchi said was never done. It’s unclear what Mechichi’s position is as he’s stayed inside his home all day, though the army says he is not under any kind of arrest.
In addition to those requirements, a Constitutional Court needs to approve the move, and one hasn’t been set up. As the German Foregin Office put it on Monday morning, it seems like Saied is relying on “a rather broad interpretation of the constitution.”
International observers hope a solution will soon be made to keep what seems to be the last functional democracy to come from the Arab Spring from devolving into civil war or dictatorship.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Reuters) (BBC)
South Korean President Makes BTS Official Presidential Envoys
The position is largely ceremonial but will be used by the government to help give a friendly and popular face to national and international initiatives spearheaded by Seoul.
The K-pop band BTS will be adding to its list of global impacts this year after South Korean President Moon Jae-in appointed its members as Presidential Envoys on Wednesday.
The role will include attending international conferences such as the United Nations General Assembly in September.
At these events, BTS will perform “various activities to promote international cooperation in solving global challenges, such as improving the environment, eliminating poverty and inequality, and respecting diversity,” according to Park Kyung-mee, a Blue House spokesperson.
The band has already appeared at U.N. conferences multiple times over the last few years.
Just last year, the group gave a message of hope and reassurance through the U.N. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior appearances at the U.N. have been either as part of U.N. organizations or as private citizens.
Wednesday’s appointment will make them official representatives of South Korea, although they won’t actually engage in any direct diplomacy and instead will be used to promote the country’s ongoing efforts in youth-related projects.
BTS’ success, alongside prior and current K-pop groups, has remained a masterclass of soft diplomacy by the Korean government. For decades, the Korean government has cultivated promoting cultural aspects abroad in the hopes of generating more interest in the country. There are hopes that such efforts will encourage more tourism as well as an elevated image when consumers consider Korean-made products.
Such efforts, beyond cultivating K-pop and raising its stars as semi-official government symbols, also include helping fund Korean restaurants abroad as well as free Korean-language classes taught by Professors of some of Korea’s most prestigious schools.
The news comes as BTS’ newest single, “Permission to Dance,” quickly took the #1 spot on the Billboard top 100. BTS is also partnering with YouTube to promote a Permission to Dance challenge on YouTube Shorts that will begin tomorrow and end on August 4.
Fans will be encouraged to replicate dance moves from the music video, and the group’s favorite clips will be put into a compilation made by them.