Julian Assange is free

Press release
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Wikileaks / ANADOLU / Anadolu via AFP

Julian Assange was able to leave the high-security British prison of Belmarsh on Monday 24 June. Although the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) welcomes this belated release, made possible by a "guilty plea" agreement reached with the American authorities, it still denounces the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of the crimes exposed by Wikileaks.

25 June 2024. Five years, two months, and two weeks of detention in punitive isolation conditions, following seven years spent secluded in the Ecuadorian embassy. The judicial, diplomatic, and political saga that began in 2010, when Julian Assange, through Wikileaks, published thousands of documents on U.S. military activities, is coming to an end.

"FIDH has mobilised for Julian Assange because beyond his case, it is a matter of human rights, fundamental freedoms, freedom of expression, and the right to inform," said Maryse Artiguelong, Vice-President of FIDH. "What was at stake is the intimidation of whistleblowers and journalists worldwide. States must protect them rather than persecute them."

To secure his release, Julian Assange’s legal team negotiated a "guilty plea" arrangement with the U.S. justice system. Assange thus acknowledges guilt on one charge out of the 17 he faced, in exchange for dropping the remaining charges and serving a limited sentence of 62 months, which has already been served on the English soil. This is a standard arrangement in some jurisdictions, notably the American jurisdiction.

"The guilty plea procedure is a double-edged sword," says Alexis Deswaef, international lawyer and Vice-President of FIDH. "It allows a State to avoid losing face while guaranteeing the release of the accused. However, let us be very clear: it in no way prejudges the actual guilt of Julian Assange, whose release we welcome. It is likely that, like other rights defenders, this procedure will be used against him in the future, we are under no illusions."

FIDH has followed Assange’s case and lent its support on numerous occasions, in particular before the European Commission, the European Parliament and more recently, in February 2024, in London on the occasion of his hearing before the High Court to decide whether or not to allow him to appeal against his extradition to the United States. Lawyer Alexis Deswaef spoke in public and to the media on this occasion.

Alexis Deswaef continues, "This case illustrates the whole problem of impunity: the American soldiers and those who gave the orders that we saw commit war crimes in Iraq have never been questioned, while Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, the whistleblowers who have been deprived of their freedom, have lost many years of their lives, not to mention their physical and mental health. On the one hand, there is an obvious moral problem, and on the other, there is a challenge to the rule of law in our democracies, which allows serious violations committed by the armed forces to go unpunished".

FIDH denounces the use of the Espionage Act, a U!S. law dating from 1917, to prosecute Julian Assange. It remains in force and could be used against other rights defenders in the future.

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