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Opinion: I am Julian Assange

February 7, 2020

Prominent German figures are calling for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be released from prison in the UK. Many more should support this appeal, writes Marcel Fürstenau.

German investigative journalist Günter Wallraff (C), former German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (R) and former German Interior Minister Gerhart Baum (L) hold a newspaper during a press conference
Image: picture-alliance/AA/A. Hosbas

Without Julian Assange, we would know far less about the US war in Afghanistan. Our picture of the conflict would have remained sanitized, and largely as political leaders would have wanted it to be. But since the 2010 Afghan War documents leak on WikiLeaks — an investigative platform founded by Assange — the world knows about the real inhumanity and duplicity surrounding the war. Indeed, thousands of classified military and intelligence documents were made public that year.

Journalists all over the world have hugely benefited from Assange's WikiLeaks platform since. It allows them to network and reveal the intransparent, illegal and at times even downright criminal activities of political and business elites. So it's really no wonder that high-ranking decision-makers fear this platform. And they're certainly entitled to make use of whichever fair, legal measures exist to fight such revelations — though the steps taken against WikiLeaks founder Assange in recent years are entirely disproportionate.

The tide has turned since Trump

When US President Barack Obama was in office, Assange feared severe repercussions for his involvement with WikiLeaks. Obama, after all, regarded him not as a champion of press freedom, but as a traitor. But luckily for him, the Obama administration did not take legal action, arguing that doing so would have similarly required taking The Guardian and The New York Times to court for their role in publishing excerpts of the leaks.

Marcel Fürstenau
DW's Marcel FürstenauImage: DW

With US President Donald Trump's rise to power, however, the tide turned against Assange. In April 2019, he was officially charged and, in June that year, Trump demanded the United Kingdom extradite Assange. The extradition hearing will commence on February 24. But since his arrest, Assange has been in solitary confinement, with the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, telling DW that Assange shows "typical signs of psychological torture." The WikiLeaks founder, in other words, is in no state to adequately prepare for his hearing.

Scores of signatures

Melzer and a medical team previously visited Assange in jail in May 2019. Back then, they demanded that he be released immediately for both health and legal reasons. Eight months have passed since then but Assange's inhumane prison conditions still have not improved.

Read more: Julian Assange faces extradition hearing as Berlin stays quiet

Thanks to the initiative of Germany's most famous investigative journalist Günter Wallraff, an appeal for Assange's release was published in German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Thursday. It was signed by 130 prominent German figures, including former German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who on Thursday told reporters in Berlin that the United Kingdom ought to free Assange.

Gabriel appalled by mistreatment

Gabriel said he initially hesitated to sign the appeal but changed his mind after a long discussion with Melzer. Gabriel is now convinced that Assange is being held for political reasons. Former German Interior Minister Gerhart Baum, who is old enough to have experienced Germany's Nazi period first-hand, even went so far as to argue that steps taken against Assange's amounted to a criminalization of press freedom.

Read more: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange 'could die' in British jail: doctors

Thank you for taking such a clear stand! And thank you to all those who already are and those who hopefully will support this appeal for Assange's release. 

As a citizen and journalist it is high time for me to express my solidarity with this man, and declare: "I am Julian Assange."

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