London, United Kingdom – The UK’s opposition Labour Party has called on the government to halt the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, where he has been charged with offences related to his work with whistle-blower Chelsea Manning.
The 47-year-old Australian activist was arrested by British police on Thursday and forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London after his asylum was revoked, bringing to an end more than six years in the building.
US prosecutors say Assange faces five years in prison if convicted of “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion,” though further charges are expected to be brought against him. On Thursday, a UK court found him guilty of violating his bail terms when he fled to the embassy in 2012. He will be sentenced at a later date.
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott on Friday said Prime Minister Theresa May should intervene as she did in the case of British hacker Gary McKinnon, whose extradition request she rejected on medical grounds in 2012.
McKinnon was sought by US authorities on charges of hacking military computers and faced up to 70 years in prison, but was deemed by doctors to be a significant suicide risk.
“In the end, the then-home secretary, Theresa May, blocked his extradition on what she said were human rights grounds. We think there may be human rights grounds in relation to Assange,” Abbott told the BBC on Friday.
However, May has shown no desire to interfere with US wishes this time. She welcomed the arrest in Parliament on Thursday, where current Home Secretary Sajid Javid accused Labour of supporting a man with “a track record of undermining the UK and our allies and the values we stand for”.
Nearly 7yrs after entering the Ecuadorean Embassy, I can confirm Julian Assange is now in police custody and rightly facing justice in the UK. I would like to thank Ecuador for its cooperation & @metpoliceuk for its professionalism. No one is above the law
— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) April 11, 2019
Assange originally sought asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where prosecutors wanted to question him over a rape allegation, which he denied. The case was subsequently dropped in 2017 because it could not proceed while Assange was in the embassy.
On Friday, Swedish prosecutors said they were examining the rape case at the request of the alleged victim’s lawyer.
When asked about the rape allegations, Abbott said it was right that he should face justice if charges are brought.
“If the Swedish government wants to come forward with those charges, I believe that Assange should face the criminal justice system,” said Abbott, who added that the arrest was politically motivated as WikiLeaks has published enormous tranches of sensitive military information.
“We all know what this is about. It’s not the rape charges, serious as they are, it’s about WikiLeaks. All that embarrassing information about the activities of the American military that was made public and that is what it is about.”
|Assange was bundled into a police van following his arrest on Thursday [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]|
‘Serious human rights violations’
Abbott’s comments follow a post on Twitter by Corbyn on Thursday that praised Assange’s exposing of US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan and said that his extradition to the US “should be opposed by the British government”.
Massimo Moratti, Amnesty International‘s deputy director for research in Europe told Al Jazeera that if extradited, Assange would face the “risk of serious human rights violations, namely detention conditions, which could violate the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment due to the possibility of solitary confinement.”
“We also consider him at risk of being subject to an unfair trial and even the death penalty can’t be excluded a priori. As a result of these risks, the UK at this point is under the obligation not to extradite him or otherwise send him to the US”, he added.
Assange’s collaborator Chelsea Manning spent seven years in prison in the US for providing 750,000 documents, videos and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks in 2010 – including a year in solitary confinement, which the United Nations deemed cruel and inhumane. Manning was once again jailed in March for refusing to give evidence before an investigation into WikiLeaks, she remains under arrest.
Ruairi Casey contributed to this report from London.