WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will exchange the lodgings of the Ecuadorian Embassy for three hots and a cot for the next 50 weeks after being sentenced to prison on May 1. The sentence was handed down in London as reprimand for skipping bail or failure to appear on charges of rape in Sweden seven years ago. But this is only the beginning for the whistleblower. The less-than-a-year prison term is just a drop in the bucket compared to what he faces if extradited to the United States.
Off to Prison
Just a little background to set the stage. The rape charge was dropped in 2017 because Sweden could not find Assange to prosecute him, but now that he has been arrested and found guilty of evading bail, the Swedish prosecutors is considering the possibility of reopening the case. Supporters argue the absurdity of the charges, claiming the two women accusers only cried foul after finding out about each other. Instead of appearing at court to defend himself, Mr. Assange fled to Ecuador in search of asylum.
The British judge, Deborah Taylor, who presided over the case on May 1, didn’t give him quite the maximum sentence, which was one year, but said he exhibited “a disdain for the law of this country.” His defense team suggested that seven years living at the embassy should offset a prison sentence, but the judge firmly denied that request. She said Assange should have left the safety of the embassy to face the charges “with the rights and protections which the legal system in this country provides.”
Fleeing a court hearing and seeking asylum would make most people look guilty, but Assange wasn’t just avoiding a rape charge – one that many people believe is bogus and a case of “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” The foreign journalist is facing the wrath of the United States government.
What Happens Now?
That’s the million-dollar question. What happens after Assange serves his time? England and the United States have an agreement regarding extradition, as long as the sentence for the individual does not involve the death penalty. The U.S. unsealed an indictment for Assange just hours after his arrest in April.
Assange is accused of conspiracy with Chelsea Manning and for leaking sensitive documents that he did not have security clearance for or authorization to publish. However, he did not work with or for the government, and used Manning as a source for his information. In fact, he wasn’t even in the country at the time of the leaked documents. The indictment specifies that Assange helped Manning decode a password on a Pentagon computer.
The whistleblower’s case has caused chaos and outrage among the journalistic world, many of whom have spoken out against what they see as a blatant attack on their First Amendment rights. Mr. Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robison, said his arrest and indictment “sets dangerous precedent for all media organizations and journalists.”
Manning, for her part in the leaks, was sentenced to 35 years but had that term commuted by then president Barack Obama. Is there even a slimmer of hope Assange could get the same? However, on March 8, she was arrested and jailed again after being found guilty of contempt of court for refusing to testify in front of a grand jury regarding her U.S. war crimes. One of the things she objected to was a closed session hearing.
“I will not participate in a secret process that I morally object to, particularly one that has historically been used to entrap and persecute activists for political speech,” Manning said in a tweet at the time.
The timing of Assange’s arrest is, at the very least, suspicious, as it occurred around the same time as the release of the Mueller report. As Liberty Nation’s Leesa K. Donner said, “A mere coincidence that the nitty-gritty of the report will be flying around while Assange may be on a jet plane to the United States? … Assange is likely going down and the lid is about to be blown off a whole lot of political mysteries – right about now.”
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