WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at five-year mark in British prison

On Wednesday, one day before the anniversary, US President Joe Biden stated that he was “considering” dropping charges against the WikiLeaks founder.

As of Thursday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has spent five years imprisoned in London’s Belmarsh Prison. His detention “makes a mockery of the USA’s obligations under international law,” Amnesty International stated.

The grim milestone was marked by press freedom activists, human rights organizations, and Assange’s wife Stella, who described her husband’s continued imprisonment as “the scariest prospect” imaginable for their family.

“He is indefinitely imprisoned… his health is deteriorating… he is facing imminent extradition really, because he is just one step away from extradition,” she said in a video posted on X.

After his arrest by British police in 2010 for sexual offense allegations that he denied, Assange jumped bail in 2012 and was granted asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He was arrested again in 2019 when Ecuador revoked his asylum, and has remained in Belmarsh since.

The US Justice Department unsealed an indictment against Assange on the day of his arrest, charging him with 17 counts of espionage. If extradited to the US and convicted, the former WikiLeaks boss faces up to 175 years in prison. The charges against Assange stem from his publication of classified material obtained by whistleblowers, including Pentagon documents detailing alleged US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange “remains arbitrarily detained in the UK on politically-motivated charges, brought by the USA for exposing their suspected wrongdoing,” Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard said in a statement on Thursday. “The US authorities have failed to conduct a full and transparent investigation into their alleged war crimes. Instead, they have chosen to target Assange for publishing information leaked to him – even if it was of public interest. The ongoing persecution of Assange makes a mockery of the USA’s obligations under international law, and their stated commitment to freedom of expression.”

Already in poor health after seven years holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy, Assange’s condition has worsened during his incarceration in Belmarsh. Former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nilz Melzger has described Assange as showing “all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture,” while the WikiLeaks founder was too ill to attend his most recent extradition hearings.

Last month, Britain’s High Court ruled that Assange cannot be extradited until the US provides assurances that he would not be subjected to the death penalty if found guilty by an American court. The British court said it would decide whether to grant Assange a final appeal against his extradition once these assurances are given.

However, US President Joe Biden told reporters on Wednesday that he is “considering” a request by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to drop the case against Assange. Biden’s comment – which came after reports that the Justice Department was considering striking a deal with the former WikiLeaks chief – was described by Stella Assange as “a good sign.”

“It’s well past time” for Assange to be released, International Federation of Journalists President Dominique Pradalie said in a statement. “If Julian Assange is jailed in the US, there is not a journalist on earth who will be safe.”