Assange: why is this decision so crucial?

Potentially decisive hearings in the Julian Assange case are under way: the High Court in London is examining whether Assange can appeal against last June's decision to extradite him to the US. If his appeal is rejected, the legal process will be exhausted in the UK. Assange's supporters have announced that they would then take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

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Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Not the superhero of press freedom

The Süddeutsche Zeitung isn't convinced by attempts to cast Assange as a political victim:

“Assange is not being charged with disseminating secret documents, but with incitement and aiding and abetting data theft. ... However even if the case were to be judged according to the standards of freedom of expression, the judgement would have to be more nuanced than the activists in Assange's entourage would like it to be. The publication of a quarter of a million datasets does not stand up to comparison; it contradicts all journalistic principles in its excessiveness and radicalism. ... Ultimately, Assange is not the superhero of press freedom, but an activist.”

Le Soir (BE) /

Protect whistleblowers everywhere

Assange is representative of many who have been persecuted for making information public, Le Soir stresses:

“The protection of whistleblowers must be upheld. It doesn't matter whether they are heroes or not. But often these men and women are more likely to be prosecuted by the justice system than those responsible for the abuses they denounce. Business or military secrecy are often invoked to silence them. In Portugal, Rui Pinto, the man behind the Football Leaks, was imprisoned. The Luxembourg courts have also prosecuted the whistleblowers behind the LuxLeaks. In France, journalists have recently been questioned by the intelligence services for divulging military secrets (i.e. those that the US military would have preferred to keep secret).”

El País (ES) /

Cornerstones of democracy at stake

El País speaks out for investigative journalism in these times of fake news:

“The harassment to which Julian Assange is being subjected goes beyond by Washington's prosecution of an alleged crime of leaking secrets. It is a clear form of intimidation of the media and their sources. ... There is much more at stake in London today than the extradition of a private citizen accused of a crime. What is at stake here is a serious and independent form of journalism in an age of false truths, fake news and alternative realities. And by extension two of the cornerstones of democracy: freedom of the press and the right to information.”

Die Welt (DE) /

Let justice finally be done

The Assange case also shows why phrases such as freedom of the press and the rule of law sound stale in large parts of the world nowadays, Die Welt observes:

“Because of the war crimes committed by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he uncovered as the founder of Wikileaks. And because of the vendetta of the US authorities against the bearer of the news, in which the British and Swedish judiciary - keyword: fabricated rape allegations - allowed themselves to be used as henchmen. ... It is up to the London court to finally give him justice. And to prove that the rule of law and freedom of the press are not propaganda lies, as Putin and his supporters in Germany and elsewhere believe.”

Il Manifesto (IT) /

Purely political

Il Manifesto sees double standards:

“52-year-old Assange is a journalist, and his extradition to the US (read conviction) would set a damaging precedent for press freedom in the so-called liberal democracies that are so vociferously outraged by the dreadful fate of Alexei Navalny. ... Assange has been imprisoned for five years in Belmarsh maximum security prison, in a tiny cell in a nightmarish prison. ... Journalists were allowed to attend the hearing, but without the technical means to do their work. They could only follow the hearing with difficulty. Which underlines how London's eagerness to get rid of this troublesome prisoner is purely political.”

The Spectator (GB) /

Setting a precedent for London's positions

No matter what the judges decide, the case will have far-reaching consequences, predicts The Spectator:

“His case will have political fall-out. Primarily, of course, this will be for UK-US relations, but potentially also for relations between the UK and the ECHR. Might this be the time that the UK finally dares to defy the court in Strasbourg, in the interests of the 'special relationship' with Washington? And could this then embolden London to defy Strasbourg again over plans to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda? The reverberations of Assange v Government of the United States of America could go very far indeed.”

Le Monde (FR) /

History has proved him right

For Le Monde the only option is his release:

“Julian Assange has done a useful job exposing the failings of the US 'war on terror'. Although these revelations were a severe ordeal for the United States, the country must now recognise that history has decided in the whistleblower's favour. The courts should be guided by this judgement when handing down their own.”