WikiLeaks Editor Says Julian Assange Extradition Is About Politics Over Law

The editor-in-chief of whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has said the upcoming extradition hearings of Julian Assange are being motivated by politics rather than law.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, 57, who has led the platform since September 2018, spoke about the case yesterday during a press conference in London. The extradition hearings, which are expected to continue into June, will begin February 24 at Woolwich Crown Court.

The briefing featured two Australian politicians who voiced personal support: Liberal National MP George Christensen and independent MP Andrew Wilkie. Their trip was privately funded, ABC reported.

It comes after British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn renewed his opposition to the extradition proceedings and Prime Minister Boris Johnston declined to comment on the case.

Earlier this month, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, said he was "outraged" by the case. Now, Hrafnsson says the situation remains complex.

"It is absolutely certain in my mind there is an overwhelming argument for the dismissal of this extradition request," he said Tuesday at the Foreign Press Association (FPA) event.

"If it was simply a case which was decided upon with the merit of the laws, I wouldn't worry at all, but this is a political case," he added. "And what's at stake is not just the life of Julian Assange, who faces 175 years in prison if extradited, it is the future of journalism."

The editor-in-chief, who previously served as the organization's spokesperson, listed a variety of reasons he believed the ongoing prosecution has an ulterior motive.

"This is a highly politicized case and it has been from the outset," he stated. "It was political in 2010 when high-level officials in the United States... called for the taking down of WikiLeaks. It was political when people were calling out for the assassination of Julian Assange.

"It was political when Mike Pompeo, then-CIA director, in 2017, decided to depict WikiLeaks as a non-state hostile intelligence service, something never heard before. We knew what that meant. That was a step in a direction to take down Julian Assange, to take down WikiLeaks, to attack [the] free press. The case was political when [Mike] Pence Ecuador."

In April 2017, Pompeo accused WikiLeaks of being "abetted by state actors like Russia" and said Assange was a "fraud" and a "narcissist who has created nothing of value."

WikiLeaks hit the headlines in 2016 during the U.S. presidential election after releasing emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and others, allegedly obtained via hackers as part of a Russian meddling campaign. The U.S. charges pre-date those disclosures.

Assange, 48, has been incarcerated at H.M. Prison Belmarsh since last April, after spending about seven years inside the Ecuadorian embassy under political asylum.

In May, the U.S. justice department unveiled an 18 charge indictment, accusing him of playing a role in "one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States." Prosecutors alleged he conspired with Chelsea Manning to obtain classified documents.

In April last year, a spokesperson from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asserted a U.S. prosecution of the WikiLeaks co-founder would be "unprecedented and unconstitutional, and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations."

But unveiling the legal case, U.S. government officials rejected the suggestion that Assange should be legally protected for sharing the files under the role of a publisher.

"Julian Assange is no journalist," John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, countered in remarks released at the time. "This made plain by the totality of his conduct as alleged in the indictment—i.e., his conspiring with and assisting a security clearance holder to acquire classified information, and his publishing the names of human sources."

WikiLeaks has long denied that its leaks resulted in human harm.

Christensen and Wilkie both met Assange in prison this week, The Guardian reported. "He is a man under great pressure, holding up ok, but there were glimpses of the broken man," Wilkie tweeted alongside an image taken during a press conference outside the Belmarsh facility.

Kristinn Hrafnsson
Editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks Kristinn Hrafnsson speaks to media outside Southwark Crown Court after Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange was today sentenced on May 1, 2019 in London, England. Jack Taylor/Getty