By Steve Topple – Jun 30, 2021
The case of Julian Assange has seen two developments in recent days. Both are significant, and both could be central to how the future looks for the imprisoned journalist.
Assange: MPs take action
First, former British Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and current Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Richard Burgon visited Belmarsh prison. They delivered a letter from a group of 20 MPs, including themselves. As Corbyn tweeted, the letter demanded that the prison let them ”exercise our right as Parliamentarians to visit him.”
This morning @HackneyAbbott @RichardBurgeon and I joined Stella and Max – the partner and son of Julian Assange who has been held in Belmarsh prison for two years. We delivered a letter from 20 MPs demanding to exercise our right as Parliamentarians to visit him. #FreeAssange pic.twitter.com/TfbURAJ0v2
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) June 29, 2021
The MPs said in the letter:
Assange is currently on remand in HMP Belmarsh, not for the violation of any UK law, but over extradition to the USA for his journalistic work carried out in the UK at the invitation of The Guardian and published in numerous leading newspapers worldwide.
In the US, Julian Assange faces a prison sentence of up to 175 years, meaning he could spend the rest of his life in jail.
This case has important implications for press and publishing freedoms in the UK and for the US-UK Extradition Treaty including its ban on extradition for political offences.
The letter claims that the decision to let MPs visit Assange is at the prison governor’s discretion. It also says that MPs first asked to have a virtual visit with Assange in December 2020. However, the letter says that the request ”continues to be met with… intransigence.”
MPs demanding access to Assange is not the only issue that’s come to light recently.
As WikiLeaks tweeted:
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) June 26, 2021
The claims come from Icelandic media outlet Stundin. It spoke to Sigurdur Ingi Thordarson, a witness against Assange who spied on WikiLeaks for the US government. He claimed that, among other things, Assange asked him to hack MPs computers and steal recordings of their phone conversations. As Wired wrote in 2013, he was working for the FBI as well as allegedly being heavily involved in WikiLeaks:
Thordarson was [a] long time volunteer for WikiLeaks with direct access to Assange and a key position as an organizer in the group…. Thordarson served two masters, working for the secret-spilling website and simultaneously spilling its secrets to the US government in exchange, he says, for a total of about $5,000. The FBI flew him internationally four times for debriefings, including one trip to Washington D.C., and on the last meeting obtained from Thordarson eight hard drives packed with chat logs, video and other data from WikiLeaks.
Other outlets have also claimed Thordarson was an important figure in Wikileaks. Some all made identical claims: that Thordarson was part of Assange’s “inner circle.” But it now appears that none of this was true.
Thordarson has retracted most of what he claimed. You can read the full Stundin article here. The World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) summed up that he ”has walked-back virtually all of the claims he made for the indictment. According to Stundin, his statements are corroborated by previously unpublished documents and chat logs.”
Moreover, it seems that governments and the media have trumped-up claims about Thordarson’s role in WikiLeaks. Again, as WSWS wrote:
The Stundin article sheds further light on Thordarson’s relationship with WikiLeaks, which has consistently been exaggerated by the American authorities and the press. It notes that he was never a member of the organisation, but insinuated himself into a peripheral role in 2010 by volunteering for it. Almost immediately, Thordarson began moonlighting with journalists and hackers by falsely presenting himself as a prominent WikiLeaks representative.
A collapsing legal case?
Of course, this was all rather predictable. As The Canary‘s Tom Coburg wrote back in 2018, Thordarson was never a credible witness. He ”is a convicted felon in relation to several offences, including paedophilia (involving nine boys). He had pleaded guilty to these offences. Also, in December 2014, Thordarson was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison on 18 charges of embezzlement, theft, and fraud.”
So, with British MPs applying pressure and the legal case against him falling apart, Assange’s future is once again in question. Whether parliamentary pressure and this new evidence will be enough for the imprisoned journalist to secure his freedom, though, is sadly debatable.
Featured image: As Julian Assange remains imprisoned in Belmarsh Prison, UK, his case has seen two new important developments. File photo from AP.