What does the future hold for the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, who became famous around the world for publishing top-secret materials regarding spy scandals, corruption at the highest echelons, war crimes and the diplomatic secrets of world powers?
UWI spoke with lawyer and expert on media-related criminal cases Ahmet Çörtoğlu.
HERO OR THIEF?
Some consider the 48-year-old Australian to be a hero, while others view him as a thief who stole secret information. Meanwhile, the US Department of Justice has filed extensive charges against the journalist. Assange, who created the Wikileaks website in 2006 to publish classified information and leaks, in 2010 published footage revealing the US military opening fire from a helicopter and killing 18 Iraqi civilians, including a Reuters journalist. After that, the name Assange firmly took its place on the front pages of the world’s leading media.
APPEALS HAVE BEEN DECLINED
Subsequently, the same year, the Swedish prosecutor’s office charged Assange with sexual assault and placed him on the international wanted list, as a result of which he was detained in the UK. After a period of 8 months under investigation, the Westminster Magistrate Court decided to put Assange under house arrest until the final consideration of the request for his extradition. All appeals filed by Assange were dismissed by the Arbitration Court of Appeal. While in the UK awaiting trial, Julian Assange sought asylum from the Ecuadorian government, taking refuge in their embassy in London. Within the walls of this embassy, Assange spent almost seven years from 2012 to 2019. During this time, the Swedish prosecutor’s office closed the case against Assange regarding the rape charges.
However, in April 2019, after Ecuador revoked Assange’s asylum, he was detained by the London police. In May, a court in London sentenced him to 50 weeks in prison for ”violating the terms of bail.” The same month, the Swedish Prosecutor’s Office resumed the investigation against him and has already requested a warrant for his arrest. The prosecutor’s office emphasizes that Assange has not yet been declared guilty of the charges against him.
It is also worth noting that the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of charges against Assange expires in 2020.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Justice has launched new charges against Assange on 17 counts. Among them – the publication of secret documents and the illegal receipt and publication of information, the publication of which threatened the security of the country.
The US’ REQUEST:
Despite the fact that the British courts decided to extradite Assange to Sweden, the fact that the Swedish prosecutor’s office once suspended the investigation and that the statute of limitation on the charges expires in 2020 may change the situation. The fact is that 50 weeks is almost a year, and by that time the Swedish charges will be expired. I do not know whether those 8 months that he previously spent in custody in the UK will be taken into account as a part of those 50 weeks. In Turkey, a person who has served a prison sentence before being found guilty has that time counted toward punishment in the future. Thus, if, after the expiration of 50 weeks, Sweden closes the investigation regarding Assange due to the statute of limitations, the extradition request might be refused, and the international search and arrest warrant canceled.
THE ACCUSATIONS ARE SERIOUS
It is alleged that one of the US’ charges against Assange is his public disclosure of telephone conversations featuring Hillary Clinton in the period of 2012-2014. In general, the new charges brought against Assange by the US Department of Justice are extremely serious. In particular, he is accused of colluding with former soldier Bradley Manning to obtain confidential government data. The stolen information, the Justice Ministry is convinced, “could have been used to the detriment of the United States or in favor of a foreign state.”
In addition, Assange is accused of illegally publishing the names of secret sources who “provided US information in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world,” violating the right to privacy, as well as participating in illegal activities aimed at changing election results.
DISCUSSION OF ASSANGE’S ALLEGED CRIMES
Assange and his supporters say that with the adoption of a new constitutional amendment, the accusations against the whistleblower have ceased to fall under the definition of any crime. The prosecutor’s office and the Ministry of Justice, naturally, believe otherwise.
The main rationale for Assange and his supporters’ assertion is an article of the American Constitution which states that it is illegal to pass laws restricting freedom of speech or freedom of the press, or the right of the population to demand that the government resolve situations that violate these rights and freedoms. Also, in accordance with this provision, a person who uses his right to freedom of speech and press to disseminate information about real events and material facts cannot be condemned or punished.
While Assange faces criminal prosecution, supporters ask whether any measures have been taken against those whose crimes were revealed in the documents he published. At the same time, the methods used in the publication of 5 million letters from the secret electronic correspondence of the American intelligence organization Stratfor, lead the world community to ask the following question: will digital tools be used by the people for the benefit of democracy, or by state power in order to further strengthen their absolute and sometimes criminal authority?