A judge will decide Julian Assange’s extradition case at a London court today, as free press advocates step up calls for his release

FILE PHOTO: WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange leaves Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Britain January 13, 2020.  REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange leaves Westminster magistrates court in London.

  • A UK judge is set to rule today, January 4, on the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the US, where he would face an array of conspiracy and hacking charges. 
  • At 10 a.m. at London’s Old Bailey courthouse, a district judge is scheduled to deliver her decision on the extradition, according to The Associated Press
  • Press advocates are having difficulty gaining access to Monday’s hearing, said Rebecca Vincent, director of international campaigns at Reporters Without Borders, on Twitter.
  • “Press freedom itself is in the dock,” said Stella Moris, Assange’s partner, on Twitter
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A UK judge is set to rule today, January 4, over the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the US, where he would face an array of conspiracy and hacking charges with a maximum sentence of 175 years. 

At 10 a.m. at London’s Old Bailey courthouse, Vanessa Baraitser, a district judge, is scheduled to deliver her decision on the extradition, according to The Associated Press. The case would then go to Priti Patel, home secretary, for a final call, per the AP. 

Press advocates were having difficulty gaining access to Monday’s hearing, said Rebecca Vincent, director of international campaigns at Reporters Without Borders, on Twitter.

“Press freedom groups are trying to monitor the defining case for press freedom and investigative journalists in the UK and around the world. Press freedom itself is in the dock,” said Stella Moris, Assange’s partner, on Twitter

In June, US Department of Justice officials expanded their 18-count indictment, broadening the scope of the conspiracy charges against Assange. The 49-page indictment says Assange “risked the safety and freedom” of US forces and diplomats by obtaining and releasing secret US government documents. 

BRITAIN ASSANGE AI WEIWEI.JPG
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei joins supporters of Julian Assange during a silent protest, outside the Old Bailey in London.

For years, free press advocates have called for the charges against Assange to be dropped. 

“You don’t need to know the vagaries of extradition law to understand that the charges against Assange are not only classic ‘political offences’ and thus barred under extradition law, but more crucially, the charges are politically-motivated,” wrote Amnesty International’s Julia Hall in September.

Last month, editors at The Guardian, one of three papers that worked with Assange on the first big WikiLeaks leak in 2010 and 2011, urged UK officials to deny the extradition request. 

“No publisher covering national security in any serious way could consider itself safe were this extradition attempt to succeed – wherever it was based; the acts of which Mr Assange is accused (which also include one count of conspiring to hack into a Pentagon computer network) took place when he was outside the US,” the Guardian said in an unsigned editorial. 

The New York Times, which also published documents from WikiLeaks, said in a 2019 editorial that Assange’s indictment “could have a chilling effect on American journalism as it has been practiced for generations. It is aimed straight at the heart of the First Amendment.”

The case against Assange sets a “dangerous precedent” for press freedom, wrote Ben Cohen in a Saturday opinion piece on Business Insider. 

 “These semantic arguments over whether someone is a journalist or not miss the point. Journalism isn’t about where you work. It’s about what you do,” Cohen said. 

A question that’s popped up repeatedly is whether President Donald Trump, in his final days in office, might pardon Assange. If Trump were to pardon him, he’d be following the 2017 lead of then-President Barack Obama, who commuted the 35-year prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the army private who leaked 700,000 documents to Assange.  

“I feel very comfortable that justice has been served,” Obama said on Twitter, days before he left office. 

Meanwhile, one of Assange’s celebrity friends, Pamela Anderson, has also spoken out on the issue.  “Everyone should be asking Mr. Trump to pardon him,” she told The Post. “Anyone with influence should speak up for his freedom because it is our freedom, too. Take to Twitter and start a storm of requests.”

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