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‘Free Julian Assange’: Protesters Gather Outside the Royal Courts

Julian Assange protest
Protestor at Julian Assange's hearing

On Tuesday 20 February and Wednesday 21 February, protesters gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice near King’s College London’s Strand campus, demanding the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

After his five-year incarceration at Belmarsh Prison, Assange faces possible extradition to the United States to face trial in the American courts. The two-day hearing was held to decide whether Assange should be granted another appeal hearing to challenge his extradition.

Assange founded the site ‘WikiLeaks’ in 2006, and has since then published a plethora of classified documents and sensitive information ‘of political, diplomatic or ethical significance’.

The most infamous leak published by Assange was the ‘hundreds of thousands of classified documents’ provided by US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, including a video showing the killing of eleven civilians and two Reuters journalists in Baghdad by US Apache helicopters which dominated the headlines in 2010.

Since then, Assange has been wanted by the US on eighteen charges under the Espionage Act for publishing classified documents and hacking into the government computer system. Assange had spent seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to evade arrest and five years subsequently at the notorious Belmarsh Prison, after Ecuador’s former President, Lenin Moreno, withdrew his asylum. He is now facing potential extradition to the US where, if convicted, he could face up to 175 years in prison.

Protesters gathered outside the Courts for two days, alongside Stella Assange, showing their support with an array of placards, banners, and leaflets, chanting ‘Free Julian Assange’.

One protester told Roar, “It is a massive case that will set the precedent for press freedom around the world […] WikiLeaks for me means truth and justice […] it provides the necessary protection for whistleblowers, a very powerful tool. A lot of people get too entrapped in the personal side of Julian Assange’s case when really the big question here is about truth, WikiLeaks, and how that affects the globe”.

Another protester travelled from Switzerland to show their support. They told Roar: “In the whole procedure of the court cases, his legal rights have been denied […] The fact that this is happening in the midst of Europe, in a country that is entitled to say we are a democracy is outrageous”.

Whilst there had been an outpouring of support from protesters on the streets during Assange’s hearing, there have also been longstanding critics of Assange.

In 2019, following Assange’s arrest at the Ecuadorian Embassy, Hillary Clinton said: “There have been examples in history in which official conduct has been made public in the name of exposing wrongdoing or misdeeds. This [WikiLeaks’ leaks] is not one of those cases”. In a similar vein, Mike Pompeo, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), denounced Assange and WikiLeaks, stating that “WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service”.

The Court has now concluded Assange’s two-day hearing, and evidently, from the protests on the streets and the proliferation of headlines deliberating on the future of Assange, the stakes are high. Assange’s fate is yet to be announced and the chants from outside the Courts demanding for his freedom are yet to be materialised as the judges deliberate on their final verdict.

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