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Assange’s Extradition Hearing Resumes: 7 September 2020

Assange’s Extradition Hearing Resumes: 7 September 2020

September 7, 2020

Press Briefing: Assange Extradition Hearing September 2020

Kevin Gosztola: Previewing witnesses scheduled to testify

Assange has been re-arrested, the previous extradition warrant has been withdrawn and the new warrant has been served.

NGOs access to Assange hearing revoked

Judge Vanessa Baraitser then announced that some 40 individuals were granted remove (video) access to the proceedings by mistake, and their access has been revoked. Courage has learned that those whose access was rescinded include representatives from Amnesty International and PEN Norway.

“I know that others are attending this hearing remotely and in an adjacent courtroom. I am allowing this to take place for social distancing and technology allows us to watch this remotely. Those who attend remotely are still bound to the usual rules relevant to court hearings. I remind you that it is a criminal offense to record or broadcast any part of this hearing, including screenshots on any device. As you know I am aware that a photograph has been taken of Mr Assange inside court and shared on social media in breach of these rules.

I have received a list of 40 people who wish to attend this remotely by cloud. This is something I can consider but only after I have received an application. I have granted a number of remote access to lawyers and a small number of people including lawyers who have acted for Mr Assange in closely related proceedings. In error, the court sent out to others who had sought access. During this pandemic, there have been changes about how people can access proceedings. I remain concerned about my ability to maintain the integrity of the court if they are able to attend remotely. Normally, I can see what is happening in the court room to ensure the integrity of courtroom is maintained. Once livestreaming takes place, the court cannot manage this breach even less when the person is outside the jurisdiction. I want to make it clear that the public interest and allowing remote access is unlikely to meet the interests of justice tests. There are many jurisdictions allowing travel to the UK during COVID, so lessening restrictions on travel. For those who consider they still not travel to the UK to attend the hearing, then they need to apply again and I will consider it.

I have regretfully refused the current remaining applications for access to the cloud access.”

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnnson explains that parliamentarians were denied access as well.

Debate over whether witness statements will be read in court

The defense has asked that the witnesses be permitted to be taken through their witness statements so that the court, Assange and the public will hear the evidence in full before cross examination starts. “To plunge into cross examination would not assist yourself, the public or Mr Assange and would not be fair.”

Prosecutor James Lewis QC opposes this, saying it is contrary to Divisional Court jurisprudence and that it would allow witnesses to give additional evidence beyond their written statements and require constant adjournments to allow the prosecution to consider the evidence given on the stand before cross examination can begin.

The judge decides,

“Each of the witness statements will be made public. Mr Assange has been given a copy of those witness statements. In my view there is no benefit whatsoever to allowing the witnesses give evidence in chief. I will give the witnesses time to settle and orientate themselves and will allow no more than 30 minutes.”

Superseding indictment comes well after proceedings were underway

Six months after opening submissions, 18 months before this hearing started and a matter of weeks before the matter was listed, the US announced a new indictment.

Defense counsel Mark Summers QC says,

“It is a curiosity that the US had, in previous hearings, been content for the hearings to go ahead in February and in May, presumably knowing that this was coming.”

It wasn’t immediately obvious what had changed. Of course the conduct outlined in it, but as far as the charges in it, it was difficult to discern what was going on….

“It became clear to everyone on 21 August, just over 2 weeks ago, whether or not we were justified in thinking the charges had changed. The material was expressly now not just background material but was being put before you as potential standalone basis for criminality, that is to say, that even if the US court rejects in their entirely the existing Manning allegations, Mr Assange can be extradited and potentially convicted for this conduct on its own and this is a resounding and new development in this case. The reason I am on my feet is of course the timing of this development.”

The defense also putlined the various other criminal allegations now included in the new indictment – including assisting a whistleblower attempting to evade arrest (Snowden).

“It would be extraordinary for this court to be beginning an extradition hearing in relation to allegations like that within weeks of their announcement without warning and even more extraordinary to do in circumstances where the defendant is in custody.”

To remedy this issue, the defense proposes the court excise the new conduct alleged in the newest indictment. “It impossible for the defense team to deal with the allegations being put to him and in relation to material for which you have been provided no explanation for their late arrival.”

“It is fundamentally unfair to introduce separate criminal allegations, without notice, without time to prepare evidence, where the defense cannot properly deal with the new aspects of the case.”

“What is happening here is abnormal, unfair and liable to create real injustice if it is allowed to continue.”

“The appropriate course is for the court to exercise its powers to excise the new allegations.”

Judge refuses to excise new conduct alleged in newest indictment

Judge Baraitser says the defense should have asked for more time despite Assange still being in custody. If conduct is to be excised, she says, it must be in context of a statutory bar or abuse of process argument. The judge refuses the defense proposal to excise any new conduct in the newest superseding indictment.

Defense requests adjournment

In light of the judge’s refusal to excise the new conduct alleged, the defense asks the court for an adjournment until January.

“This is an application that we do not make lightly because Mr Assange will bear the brunt of the consequences of it. In light of your ruling, we do apply for an adjournment to allow us to gather the evidence that we need to answer the new allegations.”

We have not been able to answer the allegations which have only been made in the last few weeks. This has been made worse because of the conditions we are all having to work under.

“I can say without fear of contradiction that no one in this case has been involved in a case of this magnitude dealing with the gathering of evidence at this late stage of the process.”

The defense explained why they haven’t made this application before today’s hearing:

“First, throughout that period, Mr Assange had not seen the new request. I have mentioned more than once that the only way he gets to see documents is by posting documents into Belmarsh. We have not had opportunity to meet and consult with him. He still hasn’t received, for example, the revised opening note and the documents which accompanied it and it was that document that made clear that we were dealing with conduct that was mere narrative as we had believed it to be but was standalone criminality capable of sustaining a conviction if accepted in its own right. Instructions taken from Assange on that basis could only have commenced on 21 August, which was last week, and we took the view that we had the ability to first apply to exclude that material. We have recognized that the solution, if there is one, is adjournment.

I could of course appraise you with more detail of the difficulties the defence team has been operating under the past few months.”

Acknowledging that they haven’t seen their client in person, the judge asks if the defense has been able to speak to Assange by phone. They respond yes, but only twice in very short conversations:

“It is not easy and even coherent on the phone. I don’t want to belabor the difficulties we have had in communicating with our client in the past week, but they have been very significant in the time period you are concerned with. He was, in essence, over that unsatisfactory medium, he was having to take in information from us on – any view – complex documents and to make him aware of the issues and to take a decision on them.”

The defense explained there is no videolink, only these short, difficult conversations by phone. The judge adjourned for 10 minutes to consider the defense’s application.

Judge denies defense request for adjournment

The judge says the defense had time to apply to adjourn previously and they did not do so. Rejecting the defense’s reasoning for applying now, she says she ruled not to excise new conduct now but this can’t have come as a surprise and the defense should have acted as if we would proceed. Judge denies defense application to adjourn.

Journalism professor begins testimony

Mark Feldstein, journalism historian and professor at the University of Maryland, gives testimony. See his witness statement here as to his determination that what Assange and WikiLeaks practice is journalism: Mark Feldstein witness statement

Feldstein testifies to the ubiquity of leaks of classified information:

“There are so many of them – thousands upon thousands – it is routine; every study in the last 60 years has said the leaks of classified information inform the public about government decision making but they also evidence government dishonesty….and they go back to George Washington’s presidency.”

Some journalists make a career of this?

Feldstein says, “Yes, Pulitzer prize winners and some of the most respected journalists in the nation.”

Would you expect publishers to be prosecuted for this criminal conduct?

“Well no…because the First Amendment protects a free press and it is vital that the press expise wrongdoing….not because journalists are somehow privileged but that the public has a right to be informed.”

Has there ever been a precedent of the prosecution of a publisher?

“There has always been a divide, the source-distributor divide….they have charged whistleblowers or sources, but have never charged a publisher, a journalistic or other news outlet.”

There have been other attempts to prosecute journalists before?

“There have been extraordinary efforts to punish presidential enemies…”

Presidents going after journalists but never to the point of a grand jury returning charges?

“That’s correct”

At this point, the court had technical issues with Prof. Feldstein’s videolink, and adjourned for the day. Court resumes tomorrow, 10am London time.

Decentralized Month of Solidarity with Assange, Whistleblowers and Press Freedom Worldwide

Decentralised Month of Solidarity with Assange, Whistleblowers and Press Freedom Worldwide

anonymous author

On September 7th 2020, the farcical extradition hearing of Julian Assange resumes for 3-4 weeks. If extradited to the US – where granted no “First Amendment” protection – he faces 175 years in a super-max prison. The US, the UK, aided by Ecuador, Sweden and others, are attempting to silence Assange and WikiLeaks. Their aim is to set a precedent that will globally harm the ability to publish information that governments want to keep secret, along with our collective capacity to organise and act based on that information.

The show trial of Assange heralds the intended destruction of our right to a free, independent, incisive and investigative press. The US seeks to criminalise and deter national security reporting in particular, as well as actions journalists take to protect their sources. The attempted labeling of journalism and the organising of public access to information as “conspiracy for espionage” [1] by the US is unacceptable by democratic standards as it cripples the right of the public to know what governments do in their name.

The documents released by WikiLeaks for which Assange stands accused provide comprehensive evidence of the brutal war crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan [2], accessible in an undeniable, authentic and searchable form. WikiLeaks operates as any investigative journalist should in the 21st century; protecting their sources and securing their communications in their exposing of government lies and corruption.

As many international experts, NGOs, lawyers, journalists and UN special rapporteurs have observed[3], the documents published by WikiLeaks are undoubtedly of immense interest to the public around the world. These releases have earned Assange and WikiLeaks many global distinctions and prestigious journalistic awards [4].

It is now time to reclaim this essential part of our collective history, by defending Assange, investigative journalists and whistleblowers worldwide.

During the weeks of the hearing and beyond [5], groups and individuals across the globe will be using all the creative means available offline and online to express their solidarity, denounce this parodic fraud of justice, defend Julian Assange and celebrate the protection of journalistic sources.

In many joyful and inventive ways including music, performances, occupation of the public space and wikis, and through decentralised means, we intend to remind everyone of our collective right and duty to hold power to account by exposing governments’ secrets, their lies and crimes.

The persecution of Assange is the persecution of a free, independent press, the persecution of Truth and Justice. It is the persecution of each one of us and of our future ability to denounce and combat abuses of power.

Defending Assange means defending our Future! We stand in solidarity and organise everywhere to tell this story to the World. In London, Berlin, Mexico, Paris, Brisbane, Vienna, Oslo, Toronto, Hamburg, Washington DC, Frankfurt, Adelaide, Brussels, New York City, Rome, and elsewhere… Join us!

More information and inspiration about upcoming actions and events all over the Globe:

More information about the case:

The War on Journalism – The Assange Case exposed in a 38min freely available documentary:

[1] see the “new” indictment: https://challengepower.info/superseding_indictment_-_24-06-2020

[2] the releases covered by the accusations of espionage are, among others the “collateral murder” video https://challengepower.info/Collateral%20Murder , the Iraq and Afghanistan “war logs” exposing dozen thousand unaccounted death.

[3] they defend Assange and the right for WikiLeaks to expose secrets: https://challengepower.info/in_defense_of_julian_assange

[4] Assange’s awards for journalism https://challengepower.info/assange_s_awards_and_recognition

[5] a calendar of various events, updated regularly: https://challengepower.info/sept2020hearingactions

Julian Assange and Political Prisoners

Panel: Julian Assange and Political Prisoners

Why is Julian Assange the first journalist to be prosecuted under the US’s Espionage Act for publishing? Why is Assange indicted, and the journalists from the New York Times or The Guardian who also published the Iraq and Afghan War Logs and the US State Department Cables are not? Why are there so many legal and judicial abnormalities in Assange’s case?

The Courage Foundation hosts a panel discussion of Julian Assange as a political prisoner, persecuted for exposing the war crimes and corruption of the United States.

We are joined by Mumia Abu-Jamal, a political prisoner formerly on death row who will call in from his jail cell. Abu-Jamal is a former Black Panther whose political statements in his youth were used against him at trial. Also on the panel is Jeff Mackler, a veteran activist who has campaigned for Mumia, for political prisoner Lynn Stewart, and now for Julian Assange. Finally, we’re joined by Cristina Navarrete, who was a political prisoner in Chile under dictator Augusto Pinochet, and who now speaks out in support of Assange in London.

“What would Julian Assange face in the US?”

Video: “What would Julian Assange face in the US?”

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is imprisoned in the high-security HMP Belmarsh in London as he faces extradition to the United States, where he has been indicted on 18 counts for obtaining, possessing, conspiring to publish and for publishing classified information. With the first-ever use of the Espionage Act for a publisher, the indictment represents an unprecedented attack on press freedom around the world. For Julian Assange, who could face up to 175 years in prison, a conviction could be a death sentence.

The Courage Foundation convened a panel of experts to examine what Julian Assange would endure and be up against if the United Kingdom extradites him to the U.S., from pre- and potentially post-trial prison conditions, the lack of a public interest defense under the Espionage Act, and the extremely high rate of convictions in U.S. federal courts.

Panelists:

  • Barry Pollack, Julian Assange’s attorney in the U.S.
  • Jeffrey Sterling, CIA whistleblower who was convicted under the Espionage Act
  • Lauri Love, U.K. activist who successfully defeated an extradition request from the United States

Moderator:

  • Kevin Gosztola, independent U.S. journalist at Shadowproof.com who has covered Chelsea Manning’s military court martial and Julian Assange’s extradition proceedings thus far

Open letter calling for the release of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange

Open letter calling for the release of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange

Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP
Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor
Ministry of Justice
102 Petty France
London
SW1H 9AJ

3 July 2020

RE: Open letter calling for the release of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange
CC: Rt Hon Dominic Raab, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Download PDF here

Dear Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP,

On 8 June 2020, responding to a question in the House of Lords about the United Kingdom’s stance regarding the protection of journalists and press freedoms, Minister of State Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said, “Media freedom is vital to open societies. Journalists must be able to investigate and report without undue interference”.

We, the undersigned, agree with this statement and call on the UK government to uphold its commitment to press freedom in its own country. At the time of Lord Ahmad’s remarks, WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange had been imprisoned on remand in the high-security HMP Belmarsh for more than a year as he faces extradition to the United States on charges of publishing. We call on the UK government to release Mr Assange from prison immediately and to block his extradition to the US.

The US government has indicted Mr Assange on 18 counts for obtaining, possessing, conspiring to publish and for publishing classified information. The indictment contains 17 counts under the Espionage Act of 1917 and one charge of conspiring (with a source) to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which uses Espionage Act language. This is the first ever use of such charges for the publication of truthful information in the public interest, and it represents a gravely dangerous attempt to criminalise journalist-source communications and the publication by journalists of classified information, regardless of the newsworthiness of the information and in complete disregard of the public’s right to know.

On 24 June 2020, the US Department of Justice issued a second superseding indictment against Mr Assange, adding no new charges but expanding on the charge for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. This new indictment employs a selective and misleading narrative in an attempt to portray Mr Assange’s actions as nefarious and conspiratorial rather than as contributions to public interest reporting.

The charges against Mr Assange carry a potential maximum sentence of 175 years in prison. Sending Mr Assange to the US, where a conviction is a near certainty, is tantamount to a death sentence.

This is an unprecedented escalation of an already disturbing assault on journalism in the US, where President Donald Trump has referred to the news media as the “enemy of the people”. Whereas previous presidents have prosecuted whistleblowers and other journalistic sources under the Espionage Act for leaking classified information, the Trump Administration has taken the further step of going after the publisher.

Mr Assange himself has been persecuted for publishing for nearly a decade. In 2012, with fears of a US prosecution that later proved prescient, Mr Assange sought and was granted asylum from the government of Ecuador, and he entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Because the UK declined to guarantee Mr Assange wouldn’t be extradited to the US, the United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that Mr Assange’s detention was indeed arbitrary and called on the UK to “immediately [allow] Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to walk free from the Ecuadorian embassy in London”.

President Obama’s administration prosecuted US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning for disclosing hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks on the US’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as State Department cables and files on inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison. But the administration, which had empanelled a Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks as early as 2010, explicitly decided not to prosecute Mr Assange due to what it termed the “New York Times problem.” As the Washington Post explained in November 2013, “If the Justice Department indicted Assange, it would also have to prosecute the New York Times and other news organizations and writers who published classified material, including The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper”.

When President Trump came to power, then-Attorney General of the US Jeff Sessions announced that prosecuting Assange would be a “priority”, despite the fact that no new evidence or information had come to light in the case. In April 2017, in a startling speech against WikiLeaks’ constitutional right to publish, then-CIA director Mike Pompeo declared WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service” and said, “Julian Assange has no First Amendment privileges”.

On 11 April 2019, Ecuador illegally terminated Mr Assange’s diplomatic asylum in violation of the Geneva Refugee Convention and invited the British police into their embassy, where he was immediately arrested at the request of the US. Mr Assange served a staggering 50 weeks in prison for a bail violation, but when that sentence ended in September 2019, he was not released. Mr Assange continues to be detained at HMP Belmarsh, now solely at the behest of the US.

Even before the lockdown initiated by the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Assange has been held in conditions approaching solitary confinement, confined to his cell more than 22 hours a day. Now under containment measures, Mr Assange is even more isolated, and he hasn’t seen his own children in several months. Furthermore, Mr Assange has been allowed extremely limited access to his lawyers and documents, severely hampering his ability to participate in his own legal defence. Following a visit to HMP Belmarsh accompanied by medical doctors in May 2019, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer determined that Mr Assange had endured psychological torture.

Mr Assange’s extradition hearing, which commenced for one week in February 2020 and is scheduled to continue for three more weeks, is set to resume in September. But the coronavirus, which has reportedly already killed at least one fellow inmate at HMP Belmarsh and which continues to spread through prisons at an alarming rate, puts the health and well-being of Mr Assange, who suffers from a chronic lung condition that makes him especially vulnerable to Covid-19, at serious risk.

The continued persecution of Mr Assange is contributing to a deterioration of press freedom in the UK and is serving to tarnish the UK’s international image. Reporters Without Borders cited the disproportionate sentencing of Mr Assange to 50 weeks in prison for breaking bail, the Home Office’s decision to greenlight the US extradition request, and Mr Assange’s continued detention as factors in the UK’s decline in ranking to 35th out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

We call on the UK government to release Mr Assange without further delay and block his extradition to the US – a measure that could save Mr Assange’s life and preserve the press freedom that the UK has committed to championing globally.

Signed:

Nathan Fuller, Executive Director, Courage Foundation
Rebecca Vincent, Director of International Campaigns, Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Anthony Bellanger, General Secretary – International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
Archie Law, Chair Sydney Peace Foundation
Carles Torner, Executive Director, PEN International
Christine McKenzie, President, PEN Melbourne
Daniel Gorman, Director, English PEN
Elena Cohen, President, National Lawyers Guild
Jeanne Mirer, President, International Association of Democratic Lawyers
Kjersti Løken Stavrum, President, PEN Norway
Lasantha De Silva, Freed Media Movement
Marcus Strom, President, MEAA Media, Australia
Mark Isaacs, President of PEN International Sydney
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary, National Union of Journalists (NUJ)
Mousa Rimawi, Director, MADA – the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms
Muhammad Rabbani, Director, CAGE UK
Naomi Colvin, UK/Ireland Programme Director, Blueprint for Free Speech
Nora Wehofsits, Advocacy Officer, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
Peter Tatchell, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Peter Weisenbacher, Institut Ludskych Prav
Ralf Nestmeyer, Vice President, German PEN
Rev Tim Costello AO, Director of Ethical Voice
Robert Wood, Chair, PEN Perth
Ruth Smeeth, Chief Executive Officer, Index on Censorship
Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia, ARTICLE 19
Silkie Carlo, Director, Big Brother Watch
William Horsley, Media Freedom Representative, Association of European Journalists
Adil Soz, International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bytes for All (B4A)
Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility (CMFR)
The Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP-Liberia)
The Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ)
FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting)
Foundation for Press Freedom (Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa)
Free Media Movement Sri Lanka
Freedom Forum Nepal
IFoX / Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkey
International Press Centre (IPC)
The International Press Institute (IPI)
Media Foundation for West Africa
Mediacentar Sarajevo
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)
RootsAction.org
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
Statewatch
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)

Assange’s Defense Outlines Extradition Arguments

Assange’s Defense Outlines Extradition Arguments

Image by Niels Ladefoged

A case management hearing was held this morning in London for imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who appeared via video link Belmarsh prison. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser confirmed that Assange’s full extradition hearing will begin on 24 February 2020, but it will now take place over three or four weeks rather than the initially scheduled five days.

Assange’s defense team outlined the main arguments it will make and witnesses it will call at the full hearing in February. Lawyers announced they will argue that the US-UK Extradition Treaty should not allow Assange’s extradition because it includes an exemption for political offenses.

“We say that there is in the treaty a ban on being extradited for a political offence and these offences as framed and in substance are political offences,” Assange’s lawyer Edward Fitzgerald told the court.

The defense will also include evidence of prejudicial statements from US government officials against Assange, along with information resulting from Chelsea Manning’s US court martial.

Barry Pollack, representing Assange in the United States, said,

“Mr. Assange’s legal team today previewed the powerful reasons he should not be extradited to the United States to face prosecution under the Espionage Act for publishing truthful, newsworthy information that exposed wrongdoing by the United States government.”

Assange’s legal team will present evidence medical evidence as well. Assange’s deteriorating health conditions, particularly since entering solitary confinement on the health ward at Belmarsh, have been of ongoing concern. Following a medical visit in May, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer wrote that Assange was suffering from psychological torture. Last month, more than 60 doctors signed an open letter calling on Belmarsh to release Assange to receive proper medical care immediately, warning he could die in prison without adequate treatment.

Finally, Assange’s defense will include evidence from the Spanish investigation into the surveillance of UC Global, a private security company which spied on Assange’s legal, medical, and personal visits in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and sent recorded material to the CIA.

UC Global director David Morales has been arrested in Spain in connection with the illegal surveillance, an astonishing intrusion of Assange’s privacy. Assange is due to testify by video link in the Spanish trial tomorrow.

Assange’s next extradition hearing is scheduled for 23 January 2020.

Interviews with Tariq Ali and Joseph Farrell outside the courtroom

Mexican President Calls for Assange’s Freedom

Mexican President Calls for Assange’s Freedom

At a press conference in Mexico City this morning, Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador called for imprisoned Wikileaks journalist Julian Assange to be “pardoned and freed.” President Obrador also called for an end to the “torture” of Assange.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador (screenshot)

Responding to a question on Assange and the diplomatic cables WikiLeaks published in 2010, Obrador said (in Spanish, original below):

“I express my solidarity [with Assange] and hope that he is pardoned and freed. I don’t know whether he has said that his actions were confrontational to norms or to the political system, but what the cables demonstrated is the workings of the global system and its authoritarian nature, these are like state secrets that have became known thanks to this investigation, thanks to these cables, and I hope that this is taken into consideration and he is freed and he is no longer tortured.”

The reporter’s question and the President’s remarks can be viewed here (from the 44:00 mark).

Barry Pollack, representing Assange in the United States, said:

“President Obrador today expressed the grave concerns that everyone who values a free press and open democracy should share. The United States has always set an example for the world with its First Amendment values. The unprecedented indictment by the United States of a publisher for Espionage is contrary to those principles.”

Yesterday the European Federation of Journalists denounced the “continued arbitrary detention and psychological torture of Julian Assange”, in a statement joining the National Union of Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists to oppose Assange’s persecution.

“We believe that the arbitrary detention and criminal prosecution of Julian Assange set an extremely dangerous precedent for journalists, media actors and freedom of the press,” said EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez.

Assange is being held in HMP Belmarsh, where he awaits his full extradition hearing which is scheduled to begin February 24th in London. If sent to the United States, Assange would face up to 175 years in prison for publishing military documents and State Department cables in 2010, exposing war crimes, uncounted civilian casualties, and rampant corruption.

In today’s press conference, President Obrador went on to say (in Spanish, original below)

“There are cables that came to light from when we were in opposition and they spoke about our struggle and I can corroborate that they are true, that is to say what is in them was accurate, they revealed illegal relationships, illegitimate acts, violations of sovereignty, contrary to democracy, against freedoms, this is what is in there.

So I express my solidarity, and my wish that he is pardoned and that it is considered, that he is liberated he could offer an apology. Liberating him will be a very just cause for human rights, it will be an act of humility on the part of the authority that has to decide on the liberty of this journalist, of this investigator, who managed to bring to light these cables that revealed information about what happened between governments. Not everything in those cables was legal. Most of the things that emerged violated our sovereignty, freedoms, and I insist, democracy. One cannot turn one’s back on human suffering. One cannot apply the politics of the ostrich, of putting one’s head in the sand. One has to speak out.”

Assange’s next case management hearing is scheduled for January 23rd.


En español

“Sí, expreso mi solidaridad y deseo que se le perdone y se le deje en libertad, no sé si él ha reconocido que actuó en contra de normas y de un sistema político pero en su momento y estos cables mostraron de cómo funciona el sistema mundial en su naturaleza autoritaria, son como secretos de Estado que se conocieron gracias a esta investigación, a la obtención de estos cables, ojalá y se le tenga consideración y se le libere y que no se le siga torturando…”.

El presidente López Obrador agregó “… aquí hay cables que se dieron a conocer cuando nosotros estábamos en la oposición y hablaban de nuestra lucha y puedo probar que son ciertos, es decir que lo que aquí se expresa obedece a la realidad de ese entonces, de relaciones ilegales, de actuaciones ilegítimas, violatorias de la soberanía, contrarias a la democracia, a las libertades, lo que aquí se expresa. Entonces manifiesto mi solidaridad. Mi deseo de que se le perdone, y que se considere de que al liberarlo que él ofrece disculpa, y se le libera va a ser una causa muy justa en favor de los derechos humanos del mundo, es un acto de humildad de la autoridad que tenga que resolver sobre la libertad de este periodista, investigador, que logró extraer estos cables que revelan información de lo que sucedía entre gobiernos. No todo lo aquí manifestado era legal. La mayor parte de las cosas aquí expresadas eran violatorias de la soberanía, de las libertades, repito de la democracia. No puede uno dar la espalda a los dolores de la humanidad. No puede uno aplicar la política, y lo digo con respeto, de abestruz, de meter la cabeza en al arena. Tiene uno que expresare.”

The Fate of Journalism & Julian Assange

The Fate of Journalism & Julian Assange

Kristinn Hrafnsson, Editor-In-Chief of WikiLeaks
 Australian National Press Club, 3 December 2019

It is a great pleasure to be with you at Australia’s National Press Club on Ngunnawal land.  I pay my respect to Ngunnawal elders past, present and emerging.

I have come a long way, from Iceland’s wintery darkness, to be here in the homeland of Julian Assange on the anniversary of the Eureka Stockade.  Today he’s about as far from the sunshine and beauty of this place as it is possible to be. I wish I didn’t have to convey to you what it’s like in Belmarsh prison.  It is a brick and wire hell of sensory deprivation. It is no place for a journalist or a publisher, and it is no place for an Australian who comes from this bright and warm place. After just a few hours of visiting Julian in that place, I find myself very angry and almost stripped of hope.

Julian has been there for 6 months now, mostly alone in a cell for over 20 hours a day – virtually in solitary confinement. I don’t know how much longer he can last.  He is a resilient and strong man – and I should know, I have worked with him closely for 10 years – but he is no longer the man I met back then.  He has sacrificed everything to publish what whistleblowers have entrusted to WikiLeaks. And every release comes from leaks – WikiLeaks does not hack, it publishes what whistleblowers provide. And we keep on doing so because whistleblowers keep trusting WikiLeaks with material.

Recently whistleblowers entrusted WikiLeaks with documents about bribery, money laundering and corruption – the FishRot Files. Two ministers in Namibia have just been forced to resign because they were revealed to be corrupt and taking bribes.

Another whistleblower recently provided email communication to then Chief of Cabinet of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Bob Fairweather. The email was from someone who was in the inspection team that visited the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, in April 2018.  Remember, this is the alleged chemical weapons attack that saw Syria bombed by the US, France and the UK.  The email outright accuses the leadership of omitting information and misrepresenting the facts.  The emails also shows how much pressure the US was bringing to bear on an organisation that is supposed to be independent and impartial.

Julian has sacrificed everything so that whistleblowers can shine light on this kinds of serious wrongdoing, so the public can understand truths about our world, and for the principles of press freedom.  He should not die for these principles. He should not be tortured, as the UN Torture expert states is occurring.  He should not be extradited for publishing.   He should not face 175 years in a US jail for publishing information about wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and activities at Guantanamo Bay, which is what the charges related to. He should not face jail for informing Australians, and the rest of the world, about the true nature of the wars we are fighting in. It’s time to bring this Australian citizen home.

What I want to discuss with you today is the fate of journalism and Julian – and I look forward to your questions and thoughts. But before I discuss who or what is a journalist, when government secrecy is legitimate or excessive, let me say some thank yous.

I want to thank Kerry O’Brien, one of your finest journalists, for what he said at the Walkleys last week. He made an important speech about the fate of journalism. For those of you who weren’t there, this is what he said, “Julian Assange is mouldering in a British prison awaiting extradition to the United States where he may pay for their severe embarrassment with a life in prison.  Again, this government could demonstrate its commitment to a free press by using its significant influence with its closest ally to gain his return to Australia.” I want to thank everyone who applauded when he said that, and it was almost all of the Australian journalists there.

I agree also with the leader of the MEAA – the journalists union in this country – of which Julian has been a card carrying member since 2007. Thank you Paul Murphy, chief executive of the MEAA, for saying at the Walkleys: “Julian Assange may be extradited to the United States to possibly face a lifetime in prison. Among the charges he is accused of, publishing material that could harm the national security of the United States. The scope of those words should alarm every journalist.”

There was loud applause when this was said too. Because Australian journalists get what is at stake, particularly after the raids on the ABC and on a journalist’s home in this town, and some have understood this all along. And here I mean journalists and writers like Phillip Adams, Fran Kelly, Andrew Fowler, Bernard Keane, and Guy Rundle. These journalists have made a consistent effort to wade through the complexities of Julian’s case to see the simple truths at stake, principally those about press freedom.

I want to thank Scott Ludlam who is here today. For many years one could have been forgiven for thinking only one Australian parliamentarian understood the danger arising from so many national security laws and the significance of the persecution of a publisher for publishing.  But now I can thank also Andrew Wilkie MP and George Christensen MP, who co-Chair the Bring Julian Assange Home Parliamentary Group. This group is an eclectic mixture of people from across the spectrum of politics who can all agree that it is time to see Julian Assange arrive back in Australia a free man.  So thank you for getting it, Barnaby Joyce, Rebekha Sharkie, Rex Patrick, Julian Hill, Steve Georganas, Richard di Natale, Adam Bandt, Peter Whish-Wilson and Zali Steggal.

I also want to thank someone here today who is in court tomorrow – for a peaceful protest climbing onto your parliament with a banner that read: Free Julian Assange: No US extradition. I hope the judge you face is similar to the Magistrate another protester faced in Melbourne last week for peacefully protesting at the UK consulate. That Magistrate stated that some would commend the person for occupying the UK Consulate and did not impose a conviction or a good behaviour bond but a $400 fine instead.

I want to thank the doctors who signed a statement of concern about Julian’s health, one of whom is here today.  Thank you Dr. Sue Wareham.

How could I not acknowledge and thank Julian’s parents, whose agony it is difficult to imagine. Christine, Julian’s mother, once said that as a mother she wishes Julian had never started WikiLeaks, but as a citizen she was proud of her son and supported WikiLeaks and its aims.  That is the kind of person who raised Julian, a person of principle who thinks like a citizen. It becomes clear through knowing his parents how Julian came to be Julian. I am a parent, and as a parent, I truly don’t know how they have endured 10 years of their son being mercilessly smeared while watching his deterioration, suffering and isolation.

For what? For publishing material that, as Kerry O’Brien said, embarrassed the United States.  But WikiLeaks wasn’t alone, and very often wasn’t first in publishing documents on Guantanamo, Iraq and Cablegate in 2009 and 2010. We partnered with some media organisations in this country, and with Der Speigel in Germany, the Guardian in the UK and The New York Times in the United States and many others.  That is also worth a thank you – the power of what we collectively made available to the public, about wars and war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, about crimes against humanity at Guantanamo Bay – it was worthwhile, and it changed things, not enough things, but some, for the better. At the time, many agreed and welcomed WikiLeaks, which was awarded the Walkley Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism in 2011. There are dozens of other awards: Julian has received 3 journalism prizes this year alone.  I continue to believe that WikiLeaks and very many media outlets were right to expose what was happening in our names.

The United States is trying to prosecute an Australian citizen, who was not even in the United States but in Europe, a gross overreach into the sovereign territory of other countries and a dangerous precedent.  What precedent does this set? It is a new form of forced rendition. Only this time not with a sack over the head and an orange jumpsuit but with the enabling of the UK legal system with the apparent support of the Australian government.  If Russia and China were doing this to an Australian journalist, we’d be hearing a lot more about it, and we will if this precedent is set.

I strongly believe that resolving this issue has important international implications. Prolonging it creates an enabling environment for the deterioration of press freedom standards globally. All around the world, media organisations, prominent individuals and grassroots campaign efforts are growing in expressing concern, by lobbying, and by taking protest action. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Guardian have expressed grave concern about the charges he faces.

UK Special Envoy on Media Freedom Amal Clooney stated at the June Global Conference for Media Freedom, the charges ‘criminalize common practices in journalism’, which the American Civil Liberties Union has warned, ‘establish a dangerous precedent that can be used to target all news organizations that hold the government accountable by publishing its secrets’. The bottom line is that the fate of Julian and journalism around the world are entwined.

Let me address this issue of whether Julian is a journalist.  It’s actually pretty insulting to be honest.  I’m recognised as a journalist but I didn’t need awards to know what I was doing was journalism for 20 years before I joined WikiLeaks and for the 10 years since I did. The High Court of the United Kingdom is not confused on this matter.  It described Julian Assange  as “…a journalist, well known through his operation of WikiLeaks” in the opening line of its 2 November 2011 ruling.  The US Army Counterintelligence Centre is similarly not confused.  It described WikiLeaks as a ‘news organization,’ and Assange as a ‘writer’ and ‘journalist’ that had ‘show[n] journalist responsibility to the newsworthiness or fair use of the classified document’. The two relevant professional bodies in Australia are not confused either.  The MEAA made it clear in 2007 – and the Walkley board in 2011 when Julian got the prestigious award – and the IFJ, the International Federation of Journalists that gave him his international journalist card.

The US indictment documents against Julian describe routine journalistic practices. The first relates to taking measures to protect the identity of a source, and the remaining 17 charges relate to receiving and publishing information. The prosecution is being pursued under the Espionage Act, the first use against a publisher in US history. It is a prosecution in which there is no public interest defence.

Alan Rusbridger, former editor of the Guardian, (who acknowledges Julian as a journalist, and is surely qualified to do so) described the journalistic activities in the charges as, ’the kind of activity that honourable journalists do all the time’.  WikiLeaks has experimented and challenged some journalistic practices, and as Hart Cohen and Antonio Castillo say in the Global Media Journal, it has also changed the way we think about the ‘rules’. How?

What WikiLeaks did when it was first established in 2006 was provide technological anonymity and untraceability to whistleblowers and sources. This is a bit similar to what the ABC installed last week, SecureDrop, and what the Guardian and New York Times caught up with a few years ago by installing it too.  WikiLeaks was out in front in understanding the implications of the internet for journalism, its promise and potential for protecting sources, for realising new ways a “networked fourth estate” could provide information to the public, and other media outlets are now applying those learnings.

What WikiLeaks specializes in is the analysis and publication of large datasets of censored or otherwise restricted official materials involving international relations, war, spying and corruption. When he could still speak for himself, Julian often referred to how an archive, rather than a few selected documents, can shine light on how human institutions actually behave, how they evolve, how power is exercised. It is the archive being made public, and not a few select documents, that has the scale to deal with the problems of a corrupt institution.

Is there a time and a place for secrecy? Of course there is – WikiLeaks uses it extensively, and so do governments, and it is legitimate when there are delicate diplomatic engagements underway, when its about dangerous materials, for all sorts of reasons.   But what we have seen so much, and what we have revealed, is how rampant secrecy has become, and how corruption thrives and becomes epidemic under conditions of secrecy.  We have also revealed the unreasonable over-classification of documents, when governments should not hide all their actions behind official secrecy while seeking to know more and more about every one of us. To speak of a balance between government secrecy and the public’s right to know is to not acknowledge how seriously out of balance these things have become.

It’s a journalist’s responsibility to publish and inform the public and undo unnecessary secrecy. Just like we journalists must keep our sources secret, we have a necessity to do that. It’s not our responsibility to protect intelligence agencies or protect police if they act in an incompetent or unlawful way, or when a whistleblower has risked everything because something is very wrong and only sunlight can halt the wrongdoing in its tracks.

As Andrew Fowler, another great Australian journalist has observed, WikiLeaks is an old-fashioned idea about journalism reborn in the age of the Internet.

Did Julian Assange himself seek to redact the war logs and cables?  Yes, as Mark Davis recently attested at a Sydney ‘Politics in the Pub’ event, he witnessed Julian stay up night after night to do just that.

The Harvard professor Yochai Benkler who testified in the Manning trial, wrote a fine paper about the importance of a free and irresponsible press. By irresponsible he meant not responsible to one group or another. He meant that it is the responsibility of the press to remain free and to publish that which powerful interests would prefer to be kept secret.

When the ABC launched SecureDrop last week, this comment was made, “It’s a sad commentary on our times that SecureDrop is necessary: we hope one day it isn’t.”  Similarly, it’s a sad commentary on our time that WikiLeaks is necessary: we hope one day it isn’t.  For now, while whistleblowers keep trusting our platform with information, it is.  And we will keep publishing.

The UK-US Extradition Treaty stipulates that if an offence is political, extradition from the UK must not proceed.  Well, the extradition of Julian to the US must not proceed then. The charges against Julian are political and being used in a political way to deter journalism and publishing.

The US authorities have spied on him, including live webstreaming of his meetings with lawyers and colleagues, including from the Embassy’s toilets, for years. An attempt was made to blackmail WikiLeaks – to extract 3 million Euros from me in fact – in exchange for these surveillance materials collected by Spanish firm Under Cover Global.  This matter is now before the Spanish courts but gives a lot of insight into the lengths the superpower has been prepared to go. The German National Broadcaster has filed a criminal complaint about this firm spying on its journalists visiting the Embassy.

I’ve travelled 10 time zones to be here today because there are things you can do in defence of your colleague and your profession that we can’t do from London or Reykjavík.

You are able to ensure that timely and accurate information about the importance of this case reaches a wide Australian audience. You are able to disarm and dismiss the ruthless misinformation campaign that this is somehow about Sweden, or the treatment of his cat, or corruption within the US democratic party. In keeping the focus on the indictments for publishing, you keep the focus on the truth.

You are in the position of facing the Prime Minister and his colleagues day after day, sometimes eye to eye. You can ask him: what has he done to get Julian home. How has he stood up for his fellow citizen. Your government did take steps to secure the freedom of James Ricketson, also of Melinda Taylor, also of Peter Greste.  Please be direct. Please be insistent. Ask for details. Not platitudes. Please be unrelenting and prepared to back each other when the inevitable evasions occur. You, above all people are able to distinguish between publishing and espionage; a distinction that the US government and its allies seem intent on erasing. And you know as well as I that if they are successful in this, then Julian Assange won’t be the last of our colleagues to have his life destroyed in this line of work.

Look around this room today. You each have a role in the political ecosystem that helps keep things safe for everyone else. I know you are under a great deal of pressure but this is where we must draw the line. As our friends in the union movement say, “an injury to one is an injury to all”. Please help us get our colleague and our friend safely home.

Australia at the moment is engaged in a debate about secrecy, whistleblowing and journalism, especially around national security. This is a very old debate, because journalism at its core will always be about power – about subjecting the powerful, and the way they use power, to scrutiny, and overcoming their resistance to that and supporting those who want to hold them accountable. What’s changed is that the internet has given journalists and whistleblowers more tools to undertake that process – but also given the powerful more tools to resist, and to attack those who try to subject them to scrutiny.

Thus we have an old conflict being fought on new battlefields, in new media, on new devices and platforms. But the stakes are perhaps greater than they have ever been.

Thank you and I look forward to your questions and comments.

Book Launch: “In Defense of Julian Assange”

Book Launch: In Defense of Julian Assange

21 November 2019

“In Defense of Julian Assange”

Today OR Books publishes “In Defense of Julian Assange,” a new essay compilation on the persecution and prosecution of the WikiLeaks founder and publisher.

Edited by author and historian Tariq Ali and civil rights attorney Margaret Kunstler, the book deals with Assange and WikiLeaks’ groundbreaking journalism and its impact, the fight to protect whistleblowers and the public’s right to know, and the threat the US indictment of Assange poses to the freedom of the press.

“In Defense of Julian Assange” features contributions from leading activists, journalists, whistleblowers, and public figures from around the world, including Pamela Anderson, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Chris Hedges, Margaret Kimberly, Matt Taibbi, Ai Wei Wei, and many more.

James C. Goodale, former Vice Chairman and General Counsel of The New York Times, said:

“This book shows why the Julian Assange case is one of the most important press freedom cases of this century or any other century.”

The United States has charged Assange with 17 counts under the Espionage Act and one count of conspiracy to commit a computer crime for the 2010 and 2011 publication of US war reports related to Afghanistan and Iraq and diplomatic cables, which exposed war crimes, previously unreported civilian deaths, and rampant corruption and abuse. These are the first charges ever brought under the Espionage Act, a 1917 law created for spies in World War I, against a journalist for publishing. If convicted, Assange could face at least 175 years in prison.

Julian Assange remains imprisoned in solitary confinement HMP Belmarsh, a maximum-security prison in London, at the behest of the United States as he awaits his extradition trial, scheduled to begin February 25th, 2020.

Barry J. Pollack, representing Assange in the United States, said,

“The unprecedented indictment of Julian Assange attempts to criminalize basic acts of journalism.  The prosecution of a publisher for gathering news from sources, protecting the identity of those sources, and exposing truthful and newsworthy information is inconsistent with the First Amendment and poses a grave threat to journalists everywhere.”

Royalties from book sales go to the Courage Foundation, which campaigns for Assange’s defense in the United States and the United Kingdom. Courage hosts Assange’s support site at defend.wikileaks.org and is funded by public contributions.

In a review of the book for The Indypendent, Michael Steven Smith writes,

“The just-published book In Defense of Julian Assange demonstrates convincingly that what is at stake in his upcoming trial is the future of free journalism, here and abroad.”

Donate to the Courage Foundation here.

Order “In Defense of Julian Assange” from OR Books today.

Sweden Drops Investigation of Julian Assange

19 November 2019

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Sweden Drops Investigation of Julian Assange

From the outset of this preliminary investigation, Julian Assange’s expressed concern has been that waiting in the wings was a United States request that would be unstoppable from Sweden and result in his spending the rest of his life in a US prison.

Now that the US does seek Mr Assange’s extradition to stand trial on unprecedented charges for journalistic work, it continues to be a matter of extreme regret that this reality was never acknowledged and that in turn a process in Sweden, with which Mr Assange has always expressed his willingness to engage and indeed did so, became so exceptionally politicised itself.

The US is seeking a 175-year prison sentence. Sweden has to date failed to give assurances it will block Mr Assange’s US extradition.

The UN has investigated the procedural history of the Swedish “preliminary investigation” against Assange. The conclusions are clear. The matter became rapidly politicised and there has been no prospect for a fair hearing for many years. An investigation into how the justice system failed to withstand the political and media pressure and lessons learned should be pursued.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, said,

“Sweden has dropped its preliminary investigation into Mr Assange for the third time, after reopening it without any new evidence or information. Let us now focus on the threat Mr Assange has been warning about for years: the belligerent prosecution of the United States and the threat it poses to the First Amendment.”

Mr. Assange arrived in Sweden two weeks after WikiLeaks published the Afghan War Diaries, the first of a series of four groundbreaking WikiLeaks publications attributed to whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

Mr. Assange was preparing to publish the Iraq War Logs, Cablegate, and the Guantanamo Bay Files when Sweden opened a “preliminary investigation” against him. By then, high-ranking US officials had announced that the US intended to prosecute Mr. Assange. Reports show that the US was also encouraging its allies to find ways to prosecute him.

The Trump administration has initiated a highly politicised prosecution. Under the Trump Administration the US is taking the intention to prosecute under Obama to its extreme by seeking an effective death penalty for Assange under the outdated 1917 Espionage Act. It is the first time the US has applied the Espionage Act to a publisher.

The Trump administration is seeking a 175-year prison sentence for the same journalistic work that has won Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks dozens of journalism prizes. The potential sentence against the publisher under President Trump is forty years longer than the potential sentence against the leaker Chelsea Manning under President Obama.

The Trump administration’s prosecution of Assange will deal a fatal blow to the First Amendment in the United States and set back press freedoms globally.

The UK Crown Prosecution Service, now acting for the United States in the extradition proceedings against Mr Assange, artificially prolonged the Swedish “preliminary investigation” by advising Sweden against questioning Mr Assange in the UK. When the SPA informed the UK of its intentions to drop the investigation against Assange in 2013, the UK CPS pressured Sweden into keeping the investigation alive.

The United Nations has conducted independent investigations into the manner in which the Swedish “preliminary investigation” has been conducted over its nine-year history. The conclusions are available on the United Nations website.

Upcoming court dates

13 December, 10:00 Case mention (a procedural brief hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court, a mandatory requirement for persons on remand awaiting an extradition)

19 December, 10:00 Case management hearing (a longer hearing in which the court may consider whether to move the February extradition hearing dates)

24-28 February 2020, 10:00: United States Extradition hearing at Belmarsh Magistrates Court

Resources

Letter by UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to the Government of Sweden (Ref: AL SWE 4/2019)

12 September 2019

https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=24838

UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Opinion No.54/2015 concerning Julian Assange (Sweden and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)

https://undocs.org/A/HRC/WGAD/2015/54

Official Don’t Extradite Assange Campaign: https://dontextraditeassange.com/

Contact: Amna Shaddad +44 7852230063, office@dontextraditeassange.com

Courage Foundation: https://defendwl.couragefound.org/, @couragefound

Contact: Nathan Fuller nathan.fuller@couragefound.org

Contacts for comment:

Per Samuelson, defence attorney for Mr. Assange +46 708473341

Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment Nils.Melzer@glasgow.ac.uk

Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks editor +3548217121