25,000 people in Belgium sign petition for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
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    25,000 people in Belgium sign petition for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

    Credit: Belga

    A petition of around 25,000 signatures to drop charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was deposited by Amnesty International representatives at the US Embassy in Brussels on Tuesday morning.

    Assange’s trial in London for extradition to the United States resumed on Monday. He faces a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison in the USA for publishing documents relating to possible war crimes committed by the US military.

    Assange could be tried on 18 charges, 17 under the Espionage Act and one under the Computer Fraud and Crime Act. He is the first publisher to be charged under the Espionage Act.

    “On the strength of these signatures, we call on the US authorities to drop all charges against Julian Assange in connection with his publishing activities, while at the same time we urge the UK authorities to reject the US extradition request in this regard,” said Philippe Hensmans, director of Amnesty International’s French-speaking Belgian section.

    Amnesty International believes that the publication of secret material on Wikileaks is a cornerstone of media freedom and the public’s right to access information of public interest.

    Nils Muižnieks, Europe Director at Amnesty International, sees this attempt to criminalise this right as a serious attack on freedom of expression: “If Julian Assange is prosecuted, it could have a deterrent effect on media freedom, leading publishers and journalists to censor themselves for fear of reprisals,” he said.

    “If Julian Assange is extradited, it will have serious human rights consequences, setting a dangerous precedent for the protection of those who publish information classified as secret in the public interest,” he continued.

    Amnesty International also fears that if extradited, there is a risk of detention conditions amounting to torture and other ill-treatment, such as prolonged solitary confinement.

    “The UK must comply with its obligations under international human rights law, which prohibits the transfer of a person to a country where they are at risk of serious human rights violations,” said Nils Muižnieks.

    In addition to the petition, around 100 people gathered in front of the British Embassy on Monday to protest out of solidarity for Assange.

    The Brussels Times