Julian Assange supporters outnumber his critics. Who are they?

With a week until a London court announces the verdict on Assange’s extradition case, we take a look at the public figures supporting him and those condemning his whistle-blowing.

Singer MIA and supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gather outside Westminster Magistrates Court in London, UK, January 13, 2020 [File: Simon Dawson/Reuters]

The fate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be decided on January 4, when the Old Bailey court will pronounce the judgement on whether he will be extradited to the United States from the United Kingdom.

The US has charged him with hacking government computers and espionage after he obtained and published hundreds of thousands of classified documents between 2010 and 2011, including the Afghanistan and Iraq war logs. The charges could lead to an unprecedented 175 years in jail for the Australian-born publisher.

He was arrested from the Ecuador embassy in London, in February 2019, where he had been given asylum seven years earlier.

Recently, calls to pardon him have grown louder, including from unlikely characters such as former US vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, a Republican.

In September, 160 former and current world leaders and diplomats signed a letter demanding the UK government prevent his extradition.

Rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have called for his release.

Increasingly, prominent media outlets, such as The Guardian, are also voicing their concern about the charges levelled against the jailed publisher.

Yet some continue to back the US’s attempt to punish Assange.

Here are some highlights from world leaders, diplomats, academics and celebrities:

In support

Alberto Fernandez, Argentina’s president

The Argentinian president, who has been described as a leftist, was one of the signatories of the September letter, which described the allegations against Assange as “troubling”.

“We call on you to act in accordance with national and international law, human rights and the rule of law by bringing an end to the ongoing extradition proceedings and granting Mr. Assange his long overdue freedom – freedom from torture, arbitrary detention and deprivation of liberty, and political persecution,” the letter said.

Jeremy Corbyn, UK’s ex-Labour Party leader

The former Labour Party leader and current UK MP, a veteran socialist, has said possible extradition to the US should be opposed, and called for the rights of whistle-blowers and journalists to be “upheld for the good of all of us”.

Lula Da Silva, former Brazilian leader

The ex-Brazilian president has consistently demanded Assange be released. In September, he wrote a column for the UK’s Guardian newspaper saying Assange’s possible extradition to the US would be “an outrage”.

Noam Chomsky, leading intellectual

Linguist and political critic Noam Chomsky, one of the world’s leading intellectuals, claims extraditing Assange would be “catastrophic” for press freedom.

“Assange is on trial for his journalism, for his principles, not his personality,” he and writer Alice Walker said, in an op-ed for the UK-based paper The Independent.

Noam Chomsky - LP special
Chomsky is one of the three co-chairs of the pro-Assange website AssangeDefense.org [File: Uli Deck/EPA]

Ai Weiwei, Chinese artist

The world-renowned artist has hailed the WikiLeaks founder, asserting that Assange represents “a core value of why we are free” – a comment that referred to press freedom.

“We need a lot of protesting, and it can take any form. I’m an artist, if I cannot use my art, it’s very limited, then I’d rather just be silent,” he said at a pro-Assange rally in September.

Rafael Correa, former Ecuador president

The former Ecuador president has long been a supporter of the Australian, granting him asylum in 2012 at the country’s embassy in the UK.

After his successor and current President Lenin Moreno revoked Assange’s asylum, leading to his arrest by UK authorities, Correa strongly condemned the decision.

“Scoundrel and betrayal can be summarised in two words: Lenin Moreno,” he said.

Correa Reuters
Ecuador’s former President Rafael Correa [File: Francois Lenoir/Reuters]

Sarah Palin, former Republican US vice presidential candidate

Earlier this month, former Republican vice presidential candidate Palin demanded Assange be pardoned.

“I made a mistake some years ago, not supporting Julian Assange – thinking that he was a bad guy,” Palin said on social media. “And I’ve learned a lot since then … He deserves a pardon.”

Palin had previously been an ardent critic of Assange, who released private emails and photos of the former Alaska governor in 2008 during her election campaign.

Pamela Anderson, actor

The television and film actor took to social media in September and appealed to Trump to pardon Assange.

Anderson, who shot to stardom after starring in the popular 1990s’ TV series Baywatch, has long supported the WikiLeaks founder, visiting him in London before and after his arrest from the Ecuadorian embassy.

Roger Waters, musician

The Pink Floyd co-founder has been spotted in several protests over the years in support of Assange’s release and against his extradition.

At a pro-Assange rally in September 2019, Waters sang the bands track “Wish You Were Here” in honour of the 49-year-old Australian. The song was originally written to pay tribute to another co-founder of Pink Floyd, the late Syd Barrett – who died in 2006.

Tulsi Gabbard, US Democrat politician

Democrat congresswoman and 2020 presidential candidate Gabbard has been one of the most vocal voices demanding Trump pardon Assange. She said the WikiLeaks founder acted in the “public interest … to expose lies and egregious abuses of power in our government”.

“Since you’re giving pardons to people, please consider pardoning those who, at great personal sacrifice, exposed the deception and criminality of those in the deep state,” Gabbard tweeted last month, in support of Assange and NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden, US whistle-blower

The US whistle-blower Snowden has called on Trump to pardon Assange, tweeting on December 3: “Mr. President, if you grant only one act of clemency during your time in office, please: free Julian Assange. You alone can save his life. @realDonaldTrump.”

MIA, British musician

British rapper MIA has described Assange as “an icon on a scale we’ve never had”, and has previously visited him at Belmarsh, a high-security prison where he is currently being held.

In an interview with Al Jazeera last year, the Sri Lankan born musician said, “Persecuting him [Assange] won’t solve any of the problems we have as humanity going forwards.”

Daniel Ellsberg, US whistle-blower

A renowned American whistle-blower, Ellsberg has said Assange’s release of the Afghanistan and Iraq war logs were “comparable importance” to the Pentagon Papers – a study on the American war Vietnam, which he leaked in 1971.

The former military analyst made the comments at Assange’s trial in September.

“It was clear to me that these revelations, like the Pentagon Papers, have the capability of informing the public that they had seriously been misled about the nature of war, progress in war, the likelihood of it ending at all,” he told the court.

Critical of Assange

Lenin Moreno, Ecuador president

The Ecuadorian president was responsible for revoking Assange’s asylum at the country’s embassy in London leading to his arrest.

Moreno accused the WikiLeaks publisher of “spying” during his stay at the embassy.

“We cannot allow our house, the house that opened its doors, to become a centre for spying. This activity violates asylum conditions. Our decision is not arbitrary but is based on international law”, Morena said, according to The Guardian.

Hillary Clinton, former US secretary of state

Upon his arrest, Clinton said Assange must “answer for what he has done”.

“I think it is clear from the indictment that came out it’s not about punishing journalism, it is about assisting the hacking of a military computer to steal information from the United States government,” she said.

During the 2016 US presidential campaign, Assange and WikiLeaks published a series of hacked Democratic National Committee emails that proved to be a big embarrassment and source of criticism for Clinton and the Democrats.

Mitch McConnell, US Republican politician

The current US Senate majority leader has in the past been highly critical of Assange, calling him a “high-tech terrorist” in 2010.

McConnell said Assange had done “enormous damage” to the US and its work with other nations.

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell [File: Kevin Lamarque/Pool/Reuters]

John Bolton, former NSA

Former national security adviser to US President Donald Trump, Bolton has previously said that “US cyber-warfare people should use WikiLeaks for target practice”.

The Republican politician was an ardent supporter of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq while serving in government during the George W Bush administration.

Source: Al Jazeera