6 February 2020. More than 130 prominent figures in politics, culture and the media in Germany are demanding the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from British custody. Assange is currently detained in HMP Belmarsh while he fights extradition to the United States in an unprecedented Espionage Act prosecution for journalistic activity.
Assange “can neither recover nor prepare for his extradition proceedings under the current conditions of detention,” according to the appeal made by the former German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and former Federal Ministers Katarina Barley, Herta Däubler-Gmelin, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, Gerhart Baum, Edelgard Bulmahn, Renate Schmidt, Jürgen Trittin and Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul as well as the former Vice President of the European Commission, Günter Verheugen. Current acting Vice President of the German Bundestag Wolfgang Kubicki has also added his name to the appeal.
The Release Julian Assange From Prison appeal was initiated by German investigative journalist Günter Wallraff. Wallraff and his fellow signatories warn that the continued detention of Julian Assange in Belmarsh, in spite of his critical state of health, is a serious violation of basic human rights and the rule of law that makes a fair trial impossible.
Since 22 September 2019, Assange has been detained in Belmarsh Prison solely for the purposes of the US extradition request. He was recently moved from Belmarsh’s medical wing, where he was held in isolation for over six months.
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer has warned that Asssange’s life is at risk. Last week the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe endorsed Melzer’s call for Assange’s prompt release from prison.
The German appeal, which is supported by Reporters Without Borders Germany, as well as members of Amnesty International, Transparency International, the German Journalists’ Union (dju), the Whistleblower Network and the writers’ association PEN-Germany, calls on the British government to “release Julian Assange from prison immediately so that he can recover under specialist medical supervision and exercise his basic rights without hindrance”. The German government is urged to lobby the British government to this effect, recognising that the defence of press freedom is a “fundamental issue of democracy”.
Julian Assange has been charged in the Eastern District of Virginia with 17 counts under the 1917 Espionage Act, all related to WikiLeaks publications of 2010-11. He also faces a further conspiracy charge related to journalist-source communications. EDVA is a judicial district located in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area.