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We must stop the extradition of Julian Assange

Julian Assange at Westminster Magistrates Court in 2019. Jack Taylor/Getty

A life-size bronze statue of Julian Assange recently appeared in Parliament Square, says Duncan Campbell in The Guardian – a reminder that the activist may soon be dragged, “handcuffed and protesting”, from Belmarsh prison to a high-security US jail. He faces an indefinite sentence for publishing “damning” secret government documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars on his site, WikiLeaks. The last message sent to me by the late Daniel Ellsberg – who “risked his own freedom” by bravely leaking intelligence on the Vietnam War – argued fiercely that Assange’s treatment is an outrage. “Any journalist anywhere in the world,” he said, “could now be extradited for exposing information classified in the US.”

There are plenty of people who could stop this persecution. When Joe Biden was a senator, he campaigned against the extradition of IRA suspects to the UK because he didn’t believe the British justice system was fair. And among our own politicians, what better way to prove you are against “cancel culture” and in favour of free speech than by preventing the cancellation of a free-speech activist? Any Conservative MPs who feel this only matters to “lefties and liberals” should read the recent article by Peter Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday, in which he makes a powerful attack on what he describes as a “violation of our national sovereignty”. “It is unimaginable,” he says, “that the US would hand over to us any of its citizens who had been accused of leaking British secret documents. Yet if Mr Assange is sent to face trial in the US, any British journalist who comes into possession of classified material from the US, though he has committed no crime according to our own law, faces the same danger.” For all those MPs anxious that Britain should “take back control”, here is a perfect way to do so.