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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange prevailed in his effort to obtain certification from the British High Court of Justice, which would allow him to appeal their prior decision to the Supreme Court.
Under the law, the court must determine that the request for an appeal involves a “point of law” that is of “public importance.”
Journalist Mohamed Elmaazi, who was in the courtroom to cover the very brief proceedings, reported that the High Court certified the following point of law: “in what circumstances can an appellate court receive [diplomatic] assurances which were not before the court of first instance in extradition proceedings.”
Although the High Court maintained it had settled the question, they acknowledged the Supreme Court had not previously considered the question.
The High Court refused to grant Assange leave to appeal to the Supreme Court but left it up to the Supreme Court to decide whether to hear an appeal, a fairly standard outcome.
“What happened in court today is precisely what we wanted to happen,” declared Stella Moris, who is Assange’s partner. “The High Court certified that we had raised a point of law of general public importance, and that the Supreme Court has good grounds to hear this appeal. The situation now is that the Supreme Court has to decide whether to hear the appeal. But make no mistake, we won today in court.”
Reporters Without Borders international campaigns director Rebecca Vincent reacted, “We welcome the High Court’s decision to allow Julian Assange the right to appeal his extradition case to the Supreme Court. This case will have enormous implications for journalism and press freedom around the world and could be hugely precedent-setting. It deserves consideration by the highest court in the land.””We very much hope that the Supreme Court will indeed accept the case for review,” Vincent stated.
Assange is detained at Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh in London, a high-security prison where he has been held since he was expelled from the Ecuador Embassy on April 11, 2019. He faces 18 charges—17 of which are charges under the Espionage Act.
The Espionage Act is a law in the United States passed in 1917 that the Justice Department has increasingly wielded against media sources who share “classified” documents or talk about sensitive information with journalists.
On December 10, 2021, the High Court, the same court which was asked to certify points of law for an appeal, granted the U.S. government’s appeal and overturned a district court decision that previously blocked Assange’s extradition.
The High Court was “satisfied” with “diplomatic assurances” offered by the U.S. government related to how Assange would be treated in jail or prison, and they stated, “There is no basis for assuming that the U.S.A. has not given the assurances in good faith.”In the request to appeal to the Supreme Court, Assange’s legal team asked the High Court to certify that the court’s approach to the “diplomatic assurances,” especially as it related to the potential jail and prison conditions, was a matter worthy of review.
Assange’s attorneys further maintained that Supreme Court review was necessary on the issue of whether the court erred in accepting “diplomatic assurances” that would be “inhuman for someone suffering from his mental disorder.”
But the High Court declined to certify those as “points of law” that were of “public importance.”The U.S. government offered “diplomatic assurances” after they lost their case when District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled on January 4, 2021, that extradition would be oppressive for mental health reasons.
According to the “diplomatic assurances” put forward, the U.S. government would not impose special administrative measures (SAMs) on Assange before trial or after he was convicted. Yet that assurance contains a major loophole.
If Assange commits a “future act” that meets “the test” for SAMs, the U.S. may designate him for such restrictive confinement conditions. They did not specify what type of acts might justify revoking this assurance.
The U.S. government pledged that Assange would not be designated for ADX Florence, a supermax prison in Colorado. Similarly, they indicated if Assange commits a “future act” that meets the “test for such designation” he could still be confined in a maximum security prison.
Prosecutors pledged to allow Assange to apply for a prisoner transfer to Australia to serve his U.S. sentence under the Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, but that does not necessarily mean they would grant an application for transfer. They merely informed the court that they would allow an application, which is a meaningless gesture.
If Assange was extradited and held in a U.S. jail or prison, the U.S. pledged to ensure he receives “clinical and psychological treatment” as recommended by a “qualified treating clinician employed or retained” by the facility where he is held. However, the assurance ignored the reality that if a facility lacks resources or the psychologist or staff does not conclude that Assange needs a higher level of care, he may not receive treatment.
On the “point of law,” which the High Court certified, Assange’s attorneys stated, “The introduction of fresh ‘evidence’ in support of an appeal against an adverse ruling, in order to repair holes identified in that ruling, is generally prohibited.” They noted prior cases.
“Quite apart from everything else, profound issues of natural justice arise where assurances are introduced by the requesting state for the first time at the High Court stage,” the attorneys added.
Assange’s attorneys further suggested the Supreme Court may want to consider the “legality of a requirement on judges to call for assurances rather than proceeding to order discharge,” which is how Baraitser ruled. In December, the High Court concluded Baraitser “ought to have notified” the U.S. government that she was going to “discharge” the case against Assange so that prosecutors could offer “assurances” before her decision.
Declassified U.K. reported days before the High Court ruled in favor of the U.S. government that Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett had a conflict of interest. Sir Alan Duncan, the former foreign minister who was a key official in the United Kingdom’s campaign to force Assange out of the Ecuador embassy, has been close friends with the court’s chief justice for over 40 years.
“Let’s not forget that every time we win, as long as this case isn’t dropped, as long as Julian isn’t freed, Julian continues to suffer,” Moris reminded the public after the ruling.
“For almost three years, he’s been in Belmarsh prison, and he is suffering profoundly, day after day, week after week, year after year. Julian has to be freed, and we hope that this will soon end.”
“We are far from achieving justice in this case because Julian has been incarcerated for so long, and he should not have spent a single day in prison. If there had been justice, the officials who plotted, who conspired to murder Julian, would be in the courtroom right now.”
“If there were justice, the crimes that Julian exposed, war crimes, the killing of innocent civilians, would not be impugned. Our fight goes on, and we will fight this until Julian is free,” Moris concluded.
The High Court’s certification guaranteed the extradition request would not be sent to the British Home Office for Home Secretary Priti Patel to authorize Assange’s transfer to the United States. Yet it was another judicial decision that prolonged a process, which will continue to exact a great mental and physical toll on Assange so long as President Joe Biden’s Justice Department keeps pursuing a case widely recognized as a threat to global press freedom.
An Iowa judge upheld one of the state’s “ag-gag” laws in a case brought against an animal rights activist, hours before dismissing all charges.
In Iowa, a person may be criminalized for “food operation trespass” if they enter or remain on the property of a factory farm “without the consent of a person who has real or apparent authority to allow the person to enter or remain on the property.”
Matt Johnson, an investigator with the grassroots animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), was charged with violating the ag-gag law after he exposed the extermination of pigs by Iowa Select Farms. He argued the law is “actually intended to punish individuals for expressing viewpoints disfavored by the Iowa legislature” and reminded the court that a similar Iowa ag-gag law was previously ruled unconstitutional by a federal court.
State prosecutors abandoned their case two days before trial and moved to dismiss charges, but the court defended the ag-gag charge, which was challenged by Matt Johnson as unconstitutional.
District Court Judge Derek Johnson ruled that the law “does not discriminate on the basis of the viewpoint of the offender. A person who trespasses on a food operation to abuse an animal is treated the same as a person who trespasses on a food operation to rescue one.”
“That is logically true. It’s factually preposterous, and it’s very clear from the legislative history that the intent of this law was to target animal rights activists, people with a particular viewpoint,” replied Wayne Hsiung, an attorney for Matt Johnson and co-founder of DxE.
“You can critique an animal rights activist’s views. You can say that what they’re saying is factually false. What you cannot do under the First Amendment is criminalize their speech, and that is the purpose of this law even if facially it doesn’t say that,” Hsiung added.
Iowa already had a law criminalizing trespassing prior to the passage of the “food operation trespass” law. Trespassing is generally a fine between $65 and $625 with the possibility of up to 30 days in prison. But under Iowa’s ag-gag law, trespassing is an aggravated misdemeanor that carries the possibility of up to two years in prison. A repeat offense may result in a felony charge.
Matt Johnson was charged on July 14, 2020, with “burglary in the third degree” and “electronic or mechanical eavesdropping.” He was later charged under the ag-gag law on April 8, 2021.
The charges came after Matt Johnson captured “video and audio recordings of pigs screaming in agony for several hours as they died. Thousands of pigs were exterminated at Iowa Select Farms using ventilation shutdown after COVID-19 outbreaks caused the closure of many slaughterhouses,” according to a press statement from DxE.
A whistleblower informed the activists of conditions at the factory farm. They rescued a “sickly piglet,” which they later named Gilly. Without saving the piglet, it would have gone to a landfill.
During an afternoon hearing on January 19, prosecutors argued for the dismissal of charges while Matt Johnson contended the charges should be dismissed with prejudice and the prosecutors should be required to outline why they were no longer pursuing the case.
The judge conceded in his order upholding the ag-gag charge that animal rights activists are disparately impacted because “some animal rights advocates have an ideological motive to gain physical access to the food animal operations.” However, he justified the targeting of animal rights activists by contending the law is “facially neutral” and does not “constitute viewpoint discrimination simply because it may disproportionately affect some speakers or messages more than others.”
On that point, Hsiung said the judge is allowing the Iowa legislature to “play games with our constitutional rights.”
Iowa has passed four ag-gag laws. The first two ag-gag laws were struck down in part or in their entirety as unconstitutional because they infringe upon First Amendment rights. According to Hsiung, the state legislature went forward with two laws that were constructed to “cover the same conduct” but avoid “constitutional scrutiny” by targeting anyone with severe penalties instead of only animal rights activists,
Hsiung also stated, “The notion that someone is going to trespass on property to abuse an animal first of all is just pretty factually unlikely. The only abuse of animals that is happening is by people who own the facility and operate the facility.”
Each expansion of ag-gag laws throughout the United States is aimed at suppressing journalism, whistleblowing, and speech around animal abuses. They are designed to protect the interests of agribusinesses and their lobbyists, who are threatened by transparency and accountability.
Matt Johnson told The Dissenter in 2019 he led an investigation into a factory farm owned by Iowa Republican state senator Ken Rozenboom. It was a response to his support for ag-gag laws.
The investigation was released in spring 2020. “Inside the barns, we documented severe rectal prolapses, intense overcrowding with noxious ammonia in the air, and excrement coating the floors. One piglet was unable to stand, gasping for air while thrashing wildly for several minutes before dying before our eyes,” DxE reported.
“It was actually that investigation that led the Iowa Select Farms truck driver to contact us because of the abuse at Iowa Select Farms, which led to the ventilation shutdown exposé,” Johnson shared.
After the ventilation shutdown was exposed at the end of May, Rozenboom backed another Iowa ag-gag law, which passed less than two weeks later. He said the law addressed the “gravest threats to animal agriculture in Iowa.”
Rozenboom discussed how DxE investigated his farm and described the organization as an “extreme animal rights group.” He cheered the law for imposing a felony against animal rights activists who commit a second offense.
The ag-gag law was passed specifically as a response to the investigations and activism of DxE. As Matt Johnson said, it subsequently was used to charge him. He was the “inspiration for the law,” and he became the first person to be charged under the law.
Iowa lawmakers escalated their attacks on journalism and whistleblowing around animal abuse in the food industry in 2021, passing a recording ban that explicitly designates audio or video recording as “trespassing” crimes.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund sued the state of Iowa and argued “the law threatens increased penalties for recording even in public places and locations advocates have long used for public advocacy, such as in open areas of legislators’ offices and parts of businesses in which other members of the public regularly come and go.”
The Guardian Angel Platoon is the moniker of Canadian veteran, activist, and singer-songwriter Dennis MacKenzie. He released the self-titled album in 2021, right before Canada’s Remembrance Day.
The album is a conceptual work that chronologically charts MacKenzie’s journey as a soldier in Afghanistan. It deals with sobering topics such as PTSD, trauma during the war, and mistreatment afterward. It also discusses overlooked issues in connection with veterans.
MacKenzie spent nine years in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, where he saw
ten of his comrades in Afghanistan die.
Since returning home, MacKenzie has been a vocal advocate on veterans’ issues, such as mental health and the ongoing crises that confront veterans when they return home.
The album includes three letters that Mackenzie wrote about his personal military experiences. “Letter
3,” for example, highlights the sad reality that he has now lost more friends to suicide than during the war in Afghanistan. “Nobody talks about that.”
The album concludes with the title track, a poignant tribute to fallen soldiers “lost to the wars” or the “wounds that remain.” Either by “foreign hands or their own, each fated the same.”
Along with highlighting the grim realities of fighting in the war, it sheds a necessary spotlight on the
aftermath veterans experience after returning home.
Listen to ‘Guardian Angel Platoon’:
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