London, United Kingdom – A British citizen with Asperger syndrome who was accused of hacking into US government agencies and had faced extradition said Julian Assange has been put on the “sacrificial altar,” as he warned that the WikiLeaks founder’s arrest could have a damaging effect on press freedom.
Lauri Love, 34, was accused by the US of belonging to the international Anonymous collective and involvement in hacks in 2012 and 2013 targeting the FBI, NASA, US Army, Missile Defense Agency and the Federal Reserve. He faced 99 years in prison in the US, but last year won his appeal against extradition in a landmark case.
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“The extradition of Julian Assange is crucial to the US because he’s been a thorn in the side of the US power base, particularly regarding secrets exposed with the assistance of Chelsea Manning and other leaks about US military activities and war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Love told Al Jazeera by phone on Saturday.
“WikiLeaks embarrassed the US government by shedding light on powerful people who do horrific things with public money and as a result, Julian has been put on the sacrificial altar.”
Almost 10 years ago, WikiLeaks released classified documents on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which exposed US war crimes.
British police arrested Assange on Thursday at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after the South American country revoked his asylum status. Assange had been holed up there since 2012.
In a British court later on Thursday, the Australian national was found guilty of breaching bail conditions. His extradition hearing is expected to take place in London on May 2.
Love said Assange has been vilified in an attempt to turn his political asylum into a soap opera.
“Someone who speaks truth to power in the public interest and allows us to understand how the world works should not find themselves facing prison,” he said.
“It has a chilling affect on press freedoms everywhere. And I think everyone in journalism should be very careful before they try to imagine they are somehow different, that something like this couldn’t happen to them.”
Love won his appeal in February 2018 as court judges ruled extradition would be “oppressive by reason of his physical and mental condition”.
The case was significant because it was the first successful use of the “forum bar” – a legal provision which UK judges can use to stop extradition.
The forum bar was introduced in 2013 by Theresa May, then-home secretary, after she had successfully blocked the extradition of Gary McKinnon. Eleven days before it was introduced, however, Talha Ahsan was extradited and went on to spend eight years in US prisons, including two in solitary confinement.
Love also won on the grounds that prosecution should take place in the country where the alleged offences took place.
Grietje Baars, lecturer at London’s The City Law School, told Al Jazeera: “This [argument] would be challenging for Assange to argue as he is accused of conspiring with US citizen, Chelsea Manning.
“Love also had complex mental health conditions, which weighed on the decision.
“If the courts grant the extradition, I would expect Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson to appeal on the basis that he’s unlikely to face a fair trial, because this is arguably, a political trial, or that he shouldn’t be extradited on the basis of his health.”
Assange faces a five-year prison sentence for “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and data theft”.
Love alleged that most US cases are resolved by “coercing people into plea bargaining” as he praised Chelsea Manning for refusing to testify against WikiLeaks at a grand jury – which saw her jailed last month.
“As far as we know, or as anybody knows, nobody has come to any harm as a consequence of WikiLeaks disclosures. If anybody can find incontrovertible objective evidence to the contrary, I would be happy to hear it. In the absence of that evidence, it is clear to me these disclosures have been a force for good in the world.”