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Julian Assange to Fight U.S. Extradition

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  • 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.

Extradition Hearing

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.

Other Charges

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)

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Malaysian Man Wins Challenge Against Islamic Law Banning Gay Sex

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  • On Thursday, a Malaysian man in the state of Selangor successfully challenged the state’s Sharia Law ban on gay sex.
  • His legal argument revolved around Malaysia’s two-track legal system that features Sharia Law Courts in some states for certain crimes, and Federal courts for everything else.
  • While the Islamic courts and Sharia law are allowed to regulate divorce, property, religion, and some criminal codes, they cannot enact laws that conflict with Federal law.
  • Malaysia’s top court unanimously found that Selangor’s Islamic-based anti-gay sex law conflicted with the countries rarely-enforced national ban on gay sex.

Malaysia Upholds Federal Law Over Sharia Law

The Malaysian LGBTQ+ community won a major legal victory in the Muslim-majority country on Thursday after a man successfully challenged an Islamic law ban on sex “against the order of nature.”

The case started back in Selangor state when eleven men were arrested for allegedly having sex together in 2018. In 2019, five admitted to the charge and received six strokes by cane, a fine, and jail terms of up to seven months.

But one man, whose name was withheld by his lawyers to protect his identity, challenged the charges. His defense revolved around how Malaysia’s legal system works.

The country, which is 60% Muslim, has both Islamic Sharia law and associated courts in many states, as well as federal laws and courts. The Sharia courts, locally called Syariah courts, are allowed to deal with Islamic law issues such as divorce, property, religion, and certain criminal matters. However, they’re barred from passing laws that conflict with federal law.

The accused pointed out that Malaysia already had an anti-gay sex statute that was leftover from its days as a British colony. The exact same statute can be found throughout former British colonial holdings like India and Pakistan and is known as Section 377.

His argument went on to say that therefore, Selangor shouldn’t have passed its Islamic anti-gay law and the Sharia court didn’t have jurisdiction over the matter.

An Important Victory

Malaysia’s top civil court unanimously agreed, striking down Selangor’s anti-gay sex statute for conflicting with federal law.

The ruling is considered a massive victory for LGBTQ+ people in Malaysia, despite there still being a federal anti-gay statute, because it’s rarely enforced. Similar laws in Muslim states, for instance, are far more restrictive and enforced by their courts. It’s also rare that such legal victories happen in Muslim-majority countries.

Even with this win, there are still other states with Islamic anti-gay statutes, but advocates are now more hopeful and confident about challenging those laws when they’re used again.

See what others are saying: (The Straits Times) (Reuters) (Independent)

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Anti-Asian Hate Crimes on the Rise in British Columbia

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  • A report given to Canadian police in Vancouver, British Columbia last week showed a 717% in hate crimes against Asians over the last year and a 97% increase in hate crimes overall.
  • Prosecutors have been urged to more seriously pursue hate crime charges, despite them being harder to prove in court.
  • The trend has been mirrored in Ontario, another Canadian province with significant Asian populations.

Massive Surges in Hate Crimes

The U.S. has struggled with anti-Asian hate crimes over the last year, especially in municipalities like New York City, which reported upwards of a 1,900% increase from one incident to 19 within the year.

However, the U.S. isn’t the only country dealing with the issue. Similar trends have been reported in Canada as well. A report given to the Vancouver police board last week found that in 2019, there were just 12 incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes reported in the city. In 2020, there was 98, which marks a 717% increase. Those numbers helped drive the stats of hate crimes in the city up 97% overall.

To be clear, crime overall has been on the rise, likely fueled by struggling local economies dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Hard To Pursue Charges

The report has caused Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth to push local prosecutors to seek more hate crime charges.

The region has failed to actually bring charges for most reported hate incidents, with the past year only seeing just one charge filed despite police evidence of such hate crimes. The issue at hand is that adding a hate crime charge makes getting a conviction much harder.

The incidents have led to a push for more strict anti-racism legislation in the province, a position that John Horgan, the British Columbian Premier, has pushed for as far back as June 2020.

British Columbia, according to an assortment of Asian-Canadian advocacy groups, has the most incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes, followed by Ontario. This is especially notable because they are the number two and number one locations of Asian populations in Canada, respectively.

See what others are saying: (Vancouver Sun) (CBC) (CTV News)

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Japan Appoints ‘Minister of Loneliness’ To Combat Rising Suicide Rates

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  • Earlier this month, Japan appointed Sakamoto Tetsushi as the country’s Minister of Loneliness, tasked with addressing rising suicide rates.
  • Suicides were declining worldwide, except in the U.S., ahead of the coronavirus pandemic but have since seen startling spikes.
  • In October, Japan reported 400 more suicide deaths than all COVID-19 related deaths in the nation until that point.
  • While suicide cases among men in Japan are higher, the country has seen a drastic increase in suicides among women, who are more likely to have unstable work that is susceptible to market disruptions from the coronavirus.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Loneliness Is a Rising Issue

Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshinori appointed Sakamoto Tetsushi as its Minister of Loneliness earlier this month.

Sakamoto is already in charge of combating Japan’s declining birthrate and regional revitalization efforts, but his new role will see him combating Japan’s rising suicide rate. Suicides were actually on the decline in Japan until the COVID-19 pandemic, which has drastically exacerbated the issue.

That trend reached a milestone in October 2020 when Japan suffered 2,153 suicides – nearly 400 more than all COVID-19 related deaths in Japan until that point. Currently, monthly suicides no longer exceed the total amount of deaths from COVID-19, as Japan faced an outbreak at the end of the year and has over 7,500 COVID-19 deaths.

Even though monthly suicides no longer outstrip total coronavirus deaths, the rate hasn’t let up. While men still make up the vast majority of suicides, there’s been a drastic increase in women taking their own lives. Between October 2020 and October 2019 there was a 70% increase in female suicides.

According to Ueda Michiko, a Japanese professor at Waseda University who studies suicides, women are particularly affected because they often have more unstable employment that is more susceptible to disruptions caused by the pandemic.

She went to tell Insider, “A lot of women are not married anymore. They have to support their own lives and they don’t have permanent jobs. So, when something happens, of course, they are hit very, very hard.”

Internationally Suicides on the Rise

Sakamoto hasn’t outlined any specific plans to combat loneliness in Japan, but he has a blueprint to work from as he’s not the world’s first Minister of Loneliness. The U.K. appointed one in 2018 after a report found more than 9 million Brits said that they often or always felt lonely.

But the job doesn’t seem very easy or desirable, as the U.K. has gone through three ministers of loneliness since then.

COVID-19 has been a massive disruption to suicide rates globally, which had actually been steadily declining for decades. The notable exception to this is the United States, which has faced increases nearly every year since 1999 adding up to almost a 30% total increase over the past two decades.

If you’re in the U.S. and feeling suicidal or have thoughts of suicide contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

For reader across the globe, here are resources in your nation.

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (NDTV) (Insider)

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