Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange staged a “night carnival” Saturday evening in London to demand his release from prison.
Around 2,000 supporters from the Don’t Extradite Assange Campaign met at Lincoln’s Inn Fields near Holborn and marched past Parliament Square. Campaigners were seen carrying lanterns and posters displaying messages in support of Assange, while a carnival drum group marched behind them.
Assange is currently being held at London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison, where he has resided since he was removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2019 for breaching jail conditions. He had sought asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations he raped two women. The investigations into the alleged sexual assaults were eventually dropped.
He is facing a legal battle regarding his potential extradition to the U.S. over the publication of classified materials. If he is extradited to the U.S., the journalist will face several charges, including espionage. Assange is accused of publishing classified information detailing crimes committed by the U.S. government in the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, Iraq and Afghanistan, and reveals instances in which the CIA engaged in torture and rendition.
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Britain’s High Court ruled last summer that Assange can be extradited to the U.S. He faces a sentence of up to 175 years in an American maximum security prison if he is extradited. The WikiLeaks founder submitted an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in December.
Protesters were heard during the march on Saturday shouting “Free Julian Assange” while carrying placards with similar messages.
Assange’s wife, Stella, spoke after the march at a rally at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster.
“We need to keep building until the movement is so big that those in power and the courts realise that there is nowhere else to go than to free Julian,” she told the crowd.
Some campaigners wore carnival outfits for Saturday’s march while others were dressed as prisoners and judges.
Don’t Extradite Assange Campaign national coordinator John Rees said at the rally that the group decided to stage a night carnival to be “dramatic” and “draw light to a dark place.”
“Julian Assange has been convicted of absolutely no crime, and justice delayed is justice denied,” Rees said. “We as campaigners have a responsibility to make sure that this case doesn’t fade from the public eye. The newspapers that collaborated with Assange have written a joint letter supporting his release, and he has the support of most major human rights organizations in the world. This is unprecedented and in most cases this would be enough to have him freed. I hope that our action tonight will help put pressure on the British and American administrations to free Julian Assange.”
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The editors and publishers of U.S. and European news outlets that worked with Assange on the publication of excerpts from over 250,000 documents he obtained in the “Cablegate” leak wrote an open letter last year calling for the U.S. to end its prosecution of Assange. The Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and El País cited press freedoms in demanding his charges be dropped.
The “Cablegate” material for which Assange is facing prosecution was leaked to WikiLeaks by then-U.S. soldier Chelsea Manning, who was convicted in 2013 of violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses. The documents exposed the inner workings of U.S. diplomacy around the globe and revealed “corruption, diplomatic scandals and spy affairs on an international scale,” according to the letter from the media outlets.
During the Obama administration, which was in office when Wikileaks published the documents in 2010, Assange was reportedly not indicted because the administration would have also had to indict journalists from major news outlets. But former President Donald Trump’s Justice Department moved to indict Assange using the Espionage Act of 1917.
The CIA reportedly had plans during the Trump administration to kill Assange over the publication of sensitive agency hacking tools, known as “Vault 7.” The CIA said it suffered “the largest data loss in CIA history” after Wikileaks published the materials.
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At the time, the agency had discussions “at the highest levels” of the administration about plans to assassinate Assange in London, according to a 2021 Yahoo report. Following orders from then-CIA director Mike Pompeo, the agency had drawn up kill “sketches” and “options.” The report further outlined advanced plans to kidnap and rendition Assange and that the CIA made a political decision to charge him.
Assange’s Wikileaks also published internal communications in 2016 between the Democratic National Committee and then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, revealing the DNC’s attempts to boost Clinton in that year’s Democratic primary. Assange has been blamed for hurting Clinton’s chances of winning the 2016 presidency.