Julian Assange’s potential extradition raises serious concerns for media freedom and could have a chilling effect on investigative journalism, United Nations rights chief Michelle Bachelet has warned, noting that his prosecution could hurt future whistleblowers.
In these circumstances, the UN’s top human rights official emphasized the importance of ensuring respect for Assange’s human rights – in particular the right to a fair trial and due process guarantees in this case – and noted her office will continue to closely follow Assange’s case.
After the London court ruled in April that Assange can be handed over to the US, where he faces up to 175 years in jail if convicted on espionage charges, his legal team filed an appeal on Friday to stop his extradition arguing that Assange is being prosecuted and punished for his political opinions.
His supporters also accuse Washington of trying to muzzle reporting of legitimate security concerns.
Meanwhile, Assange remains in high-security London prison Belmarsh and his lawyer Jennifer Robinson noted that there’s still a long way to go in terms of their appeals, stressing that, if necessary, the case will be taken to the European Court of Human Rights.
The Assange Defence Committee coalition fighting to free Assange, based in the US, also said the legal battle over his extradition was heating up on multiple fronts, pointing out the legal and human rights implications of the case and the impact years of confinement have had on his health and family.
WikiLeaks co-founder is wanted to face trial in the US for allegedly violating the US Espionage Act by publishing classified US government, military, and diplomatic files in 2010 related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, including footage of alleged war crimes committed by US troops in Iraq.
After he had spent nearly seven years hiding inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Assange was arrested by the British authorities in 2019 and his case has become a cause célèbre for media freedom.
After four years in the post, Bachelet’s term as the UN high commissioner for human rights finishes on Wednesday and no successor has yet been appointed.