Focus turns to Julian Assange after US decision to free Chelsea Manning
The decision by the US president, Barack Obama, to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning has brought fresh attention to the fate of Julian Assange, The Guardian reports.
On Twitter last week, Assange’s anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks posted: “If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ [Department of Justice] case.”
Obama’s move will test the promise. The president commuted Manning’s 35-year sentence, freeing her in May, nearly three decades early.
In a statement on Tuesday, Assange said Manning should never have been convicted and described her as “a hero, whose bravery should have been applauded not condemned”.
Assange went on to demand that the US government “immediately end its war on whistleblowers and publishers, such as WikiLeaks and myself”, but made no mention of the Twitter pledge. His lawyer said he has been pressing the Justice Department for updates on an investigation concerning WikiLeaks.
The transgender former intelligence analyst, born Bradley Manning, was convicted in August 2013 of espionage and other offences after admitting to leaking 700,000 sensitive military and diplomatic classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010.
Assange has been holed up for more than four years at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He has refused to meet prosecutors in Sweden, where he remains wanted on an allegation of rape, fearing he would be extradited to the US to face espionage charges if he leaves the embassy.
In a statement on Tuesday, a lawyer for Assange did not address whether Assange intended to come to the US.
“For many months, I have asked the DoJ to clarify Mr Assange’s status. I hope it will soon,” Assange’s lawyer, Barry Pollack, said in the statement. “The Department of Justice should not pursue any charges against Mr Assange based on his publication of truthful information and should close its criminal investigation of him immediately.”
Another Assange lawyer, Melinda Taylor, said: “Julian’s US lawyers have repeatedly asked the Department of Justice to clarify Julian Assange’s status and would like them to do so now by announcing it is closing the investigation and pursuing no charges.”
Taylor has also insisted previous comments made about the implications of the Manning case still stand. “Everything that he has said he’s standing by,” she said.
WikiLeaks also tweeted: “Assange is confident of winning any fair trial in the US. Obama’s DoJ prevented public interest defense & fair jury.”
The justice department has never announced any indictment of Assange and it is not clear that any charges have been brought under seal. The department, in refusing to turn over investigative documents sought by Manning under the Freedom of Information Act, has acknowledged that the FBI is continuing to investigate the publication of national security information on WikiLeaks arising from Manning’s disclosures.