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Russian journalists’ union awards Solidarity Prize to Julian Assange

Wednesday, 09 September 2020 6:12 AM  [ Last Update: Wednesday, 09 September 2020 7:10 AM ]

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)

A protester holds signs demanding that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange be freed, outside the Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court, in London, Britain, on September 8, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

The Russian Union of Journalists (UJR) has awarded its Solidarity Prize to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is currently fighting extradition to the United States at a British court.

The head of the UJR, Vladimir Soloviev, announced the award on the International Day of Solidarity of Journalists on Tuesday, describing Assange as “a true fighter for the freedom of speech.”

“We had no doubts about who should receive this prize. We decided that it should go to Julian Assange,” he said.

Soloviev expressed concern about Assange’s possible extradition to the US, which he said “might be equal to life imprisonment or death penalty.”

Assange, who had already been informed about the award, donated the monetary part of the prize to “the families of Russian journalists who died [on duty],” according to Secretary of UJR Timur Shafir, who accepted the prize on Assange’s behalf.

The Australian-born journalist faces charges of espionage for having published vast troves of US military records and diplomatic cables ten years ago.

His legal challenge in the UK started a decade ago, when he began fighting an attempt to extradite him to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault. Those charges, however, were later dropped.

In June 2012, he sought refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to avoid extradition to the US, where he could face years in prison for publishing the classified information.

After living for seven years at the embassy premises, he saw Ecuador revoke his asylum in April 2019. UK police were then allowed in and dragged him out of the building.

He served a short British prison sentence for violating bail terms. He remains imprisoned pending the outcome of the US’s extradition request.

An extradition hearing took place in February and was due to resume in May, but was delayed due to the pandemic. The hearing resumed on Monday at a court in London, where Assange’s legal team and an attorney for the US government faced off. The hearing is due to run until early October.

Judge warns Assange over outburst against US lawyer

On Tuesday, the court was briefly adjourned after Assange shouted “This is nonsense!” in response to remarks made by the lawyer for the US government, James Lewis.

Judge Vanessa Baraitser warned Assange he would be removed from the courtroom and tried in absentia if he continued to interrupt proceedings.

“If you interrupt proceedings and disrupt a witness who is properly giving their evidence, it is open to me to continue without you, in your absence,” said the judge. “This is obviously not something I wish to do. I am, therefore, giving you a clear warning.”

“You will hear things — no doubt many things — you disagree with during these proceedings,” she added.

Assange’s outburst came when Lewis told a witness that Assange was facing extradition proceedings over the publication of informants’ names and not for handling leaked documents.

Stafford Smith, who was witnessing for Assange, argued that the WikiLeaks website had helped expose US war crimes in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba.

Smith, a dual US-UK national and founder of the London-based charity Reprieve, said the leaked information had contributed to court findings that criminal proceedings should be taken against senior US officials.

“I say this more in sadness than anger. I would never have believed that my government would do what it did,” he said. “We are talking about criminal offenses of torture, kidnapping, rendition, holding people without trial.”

Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, said earlier that prosecuting him was an abuse of process by an administration in the US that wanted to make an example of Assange.

Assange’s supporters are also concerned that if extradited, he would be held in inhuman conditions and would not get a fair trial in the US.

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