Following Julian Assange's UK court sentencing early Wednesday where he was hit with 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail, which we noted earlier is close to the maximum sentence, WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson slammed the "vindictive" punishment as having caused “shock and outrage” in statements to reporters.
However, Hrafnsson said after the court that the "real battle" begins Thursday, which marks the start of US extradition hearings for Assange, set to begin at 10AM (UK) at the Westminster Magistrate Court. He called it a matter of "life and death" for Assange, and ultimately for the journalistic profession itself.
Hrafnsson noted that the outcome of the US extradition hearing could prove a watershed moment for the future of journalism: "Tomorrow is the first step in a long battle, so the fight will certainly continue. This is the fight for press freedom, primarily, as we’ve always stated."
Hrafnsson stressed further: “That is a real battle, it’s not just for Julian Assange – even though for him it’s a question of life and death – it is most certainly a question of perseverance [over] a major journalistic principle,” in statements made after Assange's sentencing stemming from the 2012 bail related charges.
Concerning Wednesday's stiff sentence for skipping bail - close to one year in prison - WikiLeaks later issued the following statement:
Julian Assange's sentence, for seeking and receiving asylum, is twice as much as the sentencing guidelines. The so-called speedboat killer, convicted of manslaughter, was only sentenced to six months for failing to appear in court.— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) May 1, 2019
Reuters summarizes the specific charges the US will seek to extradite him on as follows:
The U.S. Justice Department said Assange was charged with conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to gain access to a government computer as part of a 2010 leak by WikiLeaks of hundreds of thousands of U.S. military reports about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and American diplomatic communications.
Last week WikiLeaks and a German online magazine published the contents of a letter sent by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to a former WikiLeaks staff member which suggests US officials are attempting to put together a case against Julian Assange based on the Espionage Act.
The DOJ letter addressed to former WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg for the intent of requesting an interview outlined “possible violations of United States federal criminal law regarding the unauthorized receipt and dissemination of classified information,” according to a translation from the German, later published to WikiLeaks' official social media.
Crucially, conviction under the 1917 law geared toward protecting the nation's military secrets and most sensitive security matters could result in life in prison or even the death penalty for Assange.
But all of this is of course conditioned on whether or not the UK ultimately grants the Untied States' extradition request, the first step in the process of which comes Thursday morning.