Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, update on Julian Assange, Moscow, February 27, 2020

As you know, hearings on his extradition to the United States started in London on February 24. We are all well aware of what will happen after this extradition, if it is carried out. There are many examples. Let me recall what happened to Maria Butina – 117 days of solitary confinement practically without any legal grounds.

Assange’s condition evokes more than just concern. International experts described his condition as critical. This is not because of age or simply poor health but to the long-term influence of psychological torture. I am quoting a UN expert. We must understand this. After all, this is 2020. This man has been subjected to psychological torture for a long time.

Local observers (in Britain) predict that this trial will be protracted and that a ruling will only be issued after several months, probably in May. Thus, a journalist that has already been basically imprisoned for over seven years continues to be subjected to punishment. In the event of extradition he may be sentenced to life imprisonment – up to 175 years.

The whole world has already qualified Assange’s case as a blow to the institution of investigative journalism and free and independent media, as a catastrophic attack on basic human rights. Such punitive measures as regards a journalist in the 21st century are absolutely unacceptable and disgraceful for the Western countries involved in this, that consider themselves democratic and free.

Commenting on this situation, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir directly urged the British authorities to not extradite the journalist in disgrace. As I said, a pattern has been established by the United States. The conveyor belt is running and will continue to roll. Human rights advocates have voiced concern over Assange’s health on numerous occasions. On February 17, Doctors4Assange published an open letter demanding an end to the psychological violence and medical negligence with regard to Assange. I am thinking that maybe William Browder should get involved. Perhaps it’s time for him to use his experience. All his power, influence and previous actions could be used to free Assange. Or, if this fails, he should demand that the involved countries, primarily Britain and the US impose sanctions against themselves.  

It is amazing that everything that is happening to Julian Assange is his payment for conscientious journalism and for fulfilling his civic duty. He shared with society the information at his disposal. But the position of the “independent” British media is even more shocking: instead of a real protest the British press just issues laconic reports. The Guardian is the only exception. It openly writes that the US is behind this case.

Let me repeat that if we still remember, I hope you did not forget how the absolutely obscure, mysterious case of the Skripals was covered by the British media, how states and individuals have been accused, how inappropriate assumptions were made without any grounds. In the Assange case everything is clear. There is an individual who is still alive albeit in critical condition. Probably the British media should do all it can to prevent this crime.

We urge the human rights community and the related international organisations to firmly express their position and to do what they can to see justice triumph in his case. Julian Assange is the victim of many crimes but the worst has not yet happened.