Corbyn urges UK government to block Julian Assange extradition

Labour leader defends WikiLeaks co-founder for exposing Iraq and Afghanistan ‘atrocities’

People in Sydney, Australia, call for the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who was arrested by British authorities on April 11st. Photograph: Peter Rae

People in Sydney, Australia, call for the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who was arrested by British authorities on April 11st. Photograph: Peter Rae

 

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK Labour Party, has called on the British government to block the extradition of Julian Assange to the US on a computer hacking charge.

Mr Assange was arrested on Thursday after seven years holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he had claimed asylum.

US prosecutors immediately published a single charge of conspiracy to commit computer hacking against the WikiLeaks co-founder, which would carry a maximum of five years in prison. The charge relates to information leaked by the former US intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010.

Mr Assange also faces up to a year in prison in the UK for breaching bail conditions in 2012, after being found guilty of the offence within hours of his detention on Thursday.

Mr Corbyn said: “The extradition of Julian Assange to the US for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan should be opposed by the British government.”

Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, likened the case to that of computer hacker Gary McKinnon, whose extradition was blocked by the then home secretary, Theresa May, in 2012.

“In the end we blocked the extradition of Gary McKinnon for human rights grounds, and I think there may be human rights issues in relation to Assange. He is at the very least a whistleblower,” Ms Abbott told the BBC.

‘Public interest’

She added that much of the information Mr Assange had published was “very much in the public interest”.

UK law was changed in 2013, after Mr McKinnon’s case, so that the power to consider human rights grounds now lies with the courts, not the home secretary.

However, Labour does not appear to be opposing Mr Assange’s potential extradition to Sweden for sexual offences. Some charges against Mr Assange have expired but at least one could be reactivated.

Ms Abbott said: “If the Swedish government wants to come forward with those charges, I believe he should face the criminal justice system.”

Mr Assange’s arrest has been welcomed by Mrs May, the prime minister, as well as the current home secretary, Sajid Javid, and the foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt.

But it poses a dilemma for many on the left of British politics who defended the work of WikiLeaks but have subsequently been critical of Mr Assange’s refusal to face the Swedish rape allegations and his involvement in publishing hacked emails from the US Democratic National Committee ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Legal battle

Mr Assange lost his legal battle against extradition to Sweden in 2012. Charlie Falconer, a Labour peer and former lord chancellor, said the matter was no longer one for the UK government.

“Once Ecuador removed Assange’s immunity, there were no choices for government. The choices were for law enforcement agencies – police and [Crown Prosecution Service],” he said on Friday.

Mr Corbyn has long been a critic of US foreign policy and a supporter of Mr Assange. In 2010, he opposed US complaints about WikiLeaks, saying “What happened to free speech?”

In 2012 he attended a rally at Downing Street against extradition to the US, where he met Mr McKinnon’s family as well as supporters of Mr Assange. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019