Ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, organizations and activists from across the globe condemned the sentencing of the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, by a London court. Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks in jail on May 1 for violating the terms of bail granted to him in 2012 against a Swedish extradition request. Assange faces an extradition hearing to the United States later this month. On the day of his sentencing, dozens of protesters demonstrated outside the court and elsewhere in London.
US-based activist group CODEPINK put up a petition addressed to UK prime minister Theresa May, asking her to prevent Assange’s extradition to the United States. The petition received 4,400 signatures within over a day. There were also major demonstrations in Spain and the historic Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany. The protest in Germany was attended by filmmaker Angela Richter, artist Ai Weiwei, whistleblower activist Annegret Falter and activist Srecko Horvat, among others.
— Angela Richter 🐘 (@AngelaRichter_) May 2, 2019
The official Twitter of WikiLeaks called the sentence “shocking as it is vindictive. We have grave concerns as to whether he will receive a fair extradition hearing in the UK.” Assange’s friend, the hacktivist, Laurie Love, echoed the same concerns, adding that the sentence “is a pretext to send the message that if you are going to report on things, there is a line and you do not go beyond that line.” Love further added that “they are making an example of him.”
Assange’s sentence was also criticized because the jail term was close to a year, which is the highest punishment given to those who jump bail. Assange was granted bail in 2012 against an extradition request to Sweden, where he was wanted for the investigation into sexual offense charges, which were later dropped. While out on bail, Assange sought political asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy
Assange, during his years at the embassy, consistently maintained that his extradition to Sweden was part of a process to send him to the United States, where he would be charged for his work with WikiLeaks. His stance was vindicated last year when it was revealed that a US grand jury had indicted him secretly. After Assange’s arrest on April 11, the US sought his extradition on charges of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. These charges refer to Assange’s work with whistleblower Chelsea Manning, which exposed US war crimes in Iraq and atrocities in Afghanistan and during other conflicts.
Manning is also in prison on charges of contempt of the grand jury after she refused to testify against Assange. Fears remain that the US at some point could also invoke the Espionage Act against Assange, which carries a death sentence.