Protesters Demand Julian Assange Be Freed Ahead Of Extradition Hearing

By Huo Jingnan NPR

Hundreds of protesters gathered in London Saturday to demand the release of Julian Assange ahead of a court hearing on Monday over whether the WikiLeaks founder should be extradited to the United States.

The U.S. reportedly formally requested extradition last June to answer a number of charges, including conspiring to hack government computer networks and the unlawful receipt of sensitive information.

Protesters included Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. In addition to speaking at the protest rally, Waters put out a video supporting Assange, and according to Vogue, Westwood placed Assange’s story next her recent fashion presentation in London.

Waving signs reading “Journalism is not a crime” and chanting “Free Julian Assange,” the protesters marched from Australia House to Parliament Square where they were addressed by Assange’s father, John Shipton, Reuters reports.

Shipton cited the U.N.’s human rights concerns over Assange’s arrest and detention last year.

Last April, police forcibly removed Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London and put him in jail. He had been taking refuge at the embassy since 2012, when Swedish authorities sought to question him in a sexual assault investigation. The investigation ended last year because of weak evidence.

Assange’s lawyer, Éric Dupond-Moretti, told Europe 1 Friday that he intended to ask French President Emmanuel Macron for political asylum in France.

Assange lived in France for three years and has a child living there, according to Al-Jazeera. France rejected a previous asylum request in 2015, Reuters reports.

The hearing would be the first of two hearings, with the second one scheduled in May, the wire service says.

Former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, whom Assange was charged to have conspired with, was sent back to jail last May for refusing for a second time to comply with a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks and Assange.

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