Joe Biden considering request to drop Julian Assange prosecution a ‘ray of hope’

Kristinn Hrafnsson met with the Australian activist on Thursday morning at Belmarsh prison in south-east London.

Julian Assange in 2017
Julian Assange in 2017 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Julian Assange is “pleased” US President Joe Biden is considering dropping his prosecution and “hopes he’ll do the right thing”, WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief has said.

Kristinn Hrafnsson spoke to the Australian activist on Thursday morning on the fifth anniversary of his imprisonment at Belmarsh prison in south-east London.

Mr Biden responded “we’re considering it” when asked about a request from the Australian government to call off the pursuit of Assange on Wednesday.

Kristinn Hrafnsson outside Belmarsh prison after speaking to Julian Assange, who has been imprisoned there for five years
Kristinn Hrafnsson outside Belmarsh prison after speaking to Julian Assange, who has been imprisoned there for five years (Jamel Smith/PA)

Assange was taken to Belmarsh prison five years ago, after being dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy, where he stayed while fighting against being taken to the US.

The WikiLeaks founder faces prosecution in the United States over an alleged conspiracy to obtain and disclose secret military and diplomatic files in 2010 relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

His wife Stella Assange called on Mr Biden to drop the “Trump era” prosecution, citing a dangerous precedent for freedom of the press.

Mr Hrafnsson, who has visited Assange regularly in the past five years, told the PA news agency that Mr Biden’s declaration was a “ray of hope” for the WikiLeaks founder.

He said: “Of course, it is a ray of hope that we discussed and Julian is pleased with that positive sign, which is probably a result of the tremendously growing support by governments and organisations, especially the Australian government.

“We agreed and I agree with him that we need to know more. There needs to be more information and more discussion about what this entails.”

Mr Hrafnsson added that Assange is “not in a good mental state”, having suffered both “mentally and physically” after exposing the “truth”.

“Nobody would be in a good state after having spent five years inside with this very uncertain outcome about his life future, constantly angry,” he said.

“And this endless and tiresome process in the courtrooms here in London which are borderline becoming farcical.

“He’s not in a good state. He is resilient. And what keeps him alive is his family and the tremendous support on the outside.

“(Also) with the inner feeling that he did nothing wrong, he did – on the contrary – everything right.

“History will prove that and people are beginning to understand that you cannot criminalise journalism as we are seeing being done here.”

Asked about the potential re-election of Donald Trump as president, Mr Hrafnsson said he tries not to see “the fear of that outcome”.

“I see this as a good moment for Biden to do the right thing, I think that there must be some calculations being done in his circles,” he said.

“So, this is simply an opportunity for Biden to discontinue this legacy that he inherited from the previous administration, because the charges were brought about under Donald Trump.”

Mrs Assange said Mr Biden’s comments were a “good sign”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is a prosecution from the Trump era.

“It’s a Trump legacy and really Joe Biden should have dropped it from day one.

“It would set a precedent that could be used against the rest of the press because it criminalises journalistic activity, news gathering, and that’s why Obama didn’t pursue it and commuted Chelsea Manning’s sentence.”

Former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning was convicted by court martial in July 2013 for handing over more than 700,000 documents containing classified information to WikiLeaks, but her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in 2017.

During a two-day court hearing in February, Dame Victoria Sharp and Mr Justice Johnson said unless assurances were given by the US, Assange would be able to bring an appeal against his extradition.

The judges said US authorities had three weeks to provide assurances, including that he would not face the death penalty, with a final hearing potentially taking place in late May.