In a two-day hearing this week, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, made a last-ditch effort to avoid extradition from the UK to the US, where he could be charged with spying and punished for exposing top-level government secrets.
His lawyers argued that the extradition case is politically motivated and an assault on freedom of speech and press. If he loses, the only remaining block to extradition lies with the European Court of Human Rights, which has already dismissed two applications from him in 2015 and 2022.
Assange was charged in secret in the US in 2018, and should he be extradited, he could face up to 175 years in prison (though government lawyers have said it’s likely to be close to 4-6 years). Meanwhile, Australia’s parliament is calling for Assange to serve his sentence in his homeland.
But since Assange’s story began almost 15 years ago, it’s time for a refresher. Here’s what you need to know.
Who is he? Assange is an Australian-born hacker and publisher. Depending on where you stand, he is either a free speech hero, a journalistic ally, a national security threat – or all of the above.
In 2010, Wikileaks published nearly 500,000 classified documents on the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, diplomatic cables, military footage, and private emails. His publications have put lives at risk, strained US alliances, hurt Hilary Clinton’s 2016 presidential chances, and sparked democratic uprisings – most notably, the Arab Spring in Tunisia.
The Obama administration decided not to charge Assange out of respect for press freedom, but during the Trump presidency, the US Justice Department accused Assange of violating the Espionage Act.
Assange has spent seven years in asylum and five years in a British jail. Following the initial leaks, a Swedish court ordered Assange’s arrest over allegations of sex crimes. To avoid being extradited to Sweden, Assange sped to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he was granted asylum until 2019.
Ever since, Assange has remained in a UK prison over breaching bail conditions, fighting extradition hearings with the US. In June 2022, the UK approved the extradition, and last year a judge at London's High Court turned down Assange’s request for an appeal – a sign that he has reached the limits of the British courts.
Two British High Court judges are now mulling whether Assange’s time in the UK is up – a process that could take days or weeks.
Hike: The Pekoe Trail. Two hundred years ago, British colonists established massive tea plantations across Sri Lanka’s cool, humid highlands that still produce some of the finest brews on the planet. Now, you have the opportunity to hike through the jaw-dropping landscapes of tea country thanks to a recently opened 22-stage, 300 km track between the sacred city of Kandy and the mountain resort of Nuwara Eliya, built with support from the EU and USAID. Hurry over for the best experience before the whole world catches wind of it – my travel buddy and I were the only tourists on the trail, and locals were delighted to bring us in for home-cooked meals and selfies with the school kids. – Matt
Play: “Alan Wake 2.” If you like video games with sophisticated storylines that also have the potential to haunt your dreams, then I highly recommend this one. It recently won a bunch of awards so I decided to give it a shot, and it is both captivating and terrifying. The game is a reality-bending murder mystery that requires you to solve a lot of puzzles and will repeatedly make you jump out of your seat. I would avoid playing this before bedtime. – JohnChannel: Your inner Jackson Pollock. Last weekend, I surprised the family with a splatter paint session at a local mall, where we were dressed head-to-toe in plastic (think Ghostbusters) and set loose with a canvas, paint, and brushes. I threw streams of paint at my canvas, while my daughter and husband poured onto theirs for a marbling effect. It was messy, addictive fun, and we went home with three (not horrible) modern works of art to proudly display … in the guest room. – Tracy
Hard Numbers: Von der Leyen seeks reelection, Israel GDP plummets, Ukrainian troops captured, Something’s smelly in Cape Town, Moïse’s widow indicted
20: Since the start of the war in Gaza, Israel's GDP has plummeted by nearly 20%. The biggest economic hits came from the government calling 300,000 reservists away from their jobs to Gaza, relocating 120,000 Israelis away from the border, and restricting Palestinian West Bank workers from working in the country.
1,000: Up to 1,000 Ukrainian troops appear to have been captured during Russia’s takeover of the east Ukrainian city of Avdiivka. The loss is a sign of military supplies dwindling in the absence of new US funding, damaging morale, and Ukraine’s ability to hold the line.
19,000: After searching for days to locate the source of the “unimaginable stench” that engulfed Cape Town, South African officials finally found the culprit: a ship transporting 19,000 live cattle from Brazil to Iraq. The ship is set to depart soon, but the country is seeing an uptick in livestock bound for the Middle East passing through Cape Town as an alternative to the Red Sea route amid Houthi violence there.
51: Martine Moïse is among 51 people indicted for alleged involvement in the July 2021 assassination of her husband, then-Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. Attorneys for Mrs. Moïse, who was wounded in the attack, denied the charges and questioned the legitimacy of the 122-page indictment, which doesn’t provide evidence of her direct involvement.
Were President Joe Biden to win reelection this November, he’d be 86 years old when finishing his second term. That’s part of why a startling 86% of Americans tell pollsters he’s too old to serve again.
But 86 is only one Biden number of note. Another is 130 million. That’s the total number of dollars his campaign has raised to date after raking in $42 million in the month of January alone. In fact, Biden’s $130 million haul is the most any Democrat has ever raised to this point in a campaign. (Donald Trump ended 2023 with $66 million and hasn’t yet reported January totals. He also has a few legal bills to pay.)
That’s why, whatever his popularity numbers, despite the flood of recent stories about possible Democratic Party alternatives to Biden, and whatever embarrassments next week’s Michigan primary may hold in store for a president whose firm support for Israel has angered much of that state’s sizeable Arab-American population, Biden won’t be easy to beat.
It’s also another reason we hold to our view that the only presidential polling questions that really matter are: Will you vote? Who will you vote for?
The authoritarian world’s hottest young thing – Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele – has won a Congressional supermajority.
Bukele, who won a landslide reelection last month, will control a staggering 54 of 60 seats in the Central American country’s legislature, empowering him to do … whatever he likes.
What might that be? Hard to say. He’s already jailed nearly 2% of the adult population as part of a ferocious crackdown on gang violence, and he already got a friendly court to rule he could flout term limits. His allies even openly say he aims to “dismantle” democracy.
And … his success at slashing the murder rate to pieces has made him incredibly popular. That’s true not only at home but also abroad, where some in other violence-wracked Latin American countries – Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile – are increasingly enamored of Bukele.
Not so fast, say experts. El Salvador is a tiny country (6 million people) whose gangs – fearsome as they are – pale in comparison to the size and firepower of the transnational cartels running amok elsewhere in the neighborhood. Bukele’s model plays well at home, but it might not – for now at least – export as well.
Five days ago, Russia’s most prominent dissident, Alexei Navalny, dropped dead in a remote Arctic prison. Three days ago, Russian forces in Ukraine scored their first major victory in months, taking the strategic town of Avdiivka. Two days ago, the body of a Russian helicopter pilot who famously defected to Ukraine last year was found shot dead in Spain. One day ago, authorities in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg arrested a US-Russian dual citizen on charges of treason for raising money for Ukraine and attending demonstrations in Los Angeles.
It’s impossible to know if the timing of all of these things was intentional, but taken together the effect is the same: Vladimir Putin’s message to the West is, “I’ll do what I like, and you’ll do nothing about it.”
Is he right? Maybe. Russia’s already under harsh sanctions, and there’s little appetite for tougher ones that would hit, say, Moscow’s globally important energy exports. Certainly not over the arrest or killing of individual opponents.
More interesting will be whether it all affects the Capitol Hill debate over supplying more aid to Ukraine. With no sign of that yet, what will Putin do next?
Israel on Tuesday ordered new evacuations in Gaza City as it prepares for a controversial ground offensive in Rafah, the enclave’s southernmost town.
The news is a reminder that roughly 300,000 Palestinians are still estimated to be in northern Gaza despite evacuations that pushed waves of people south after Oct. 7. It’s also indicative of the myriad challenges Palestinians face amid the Israel-Hamas war. It’s estimated that up to 1.9 million people in Gaza have been displaced since fighting began, and around 1.5 million are sheltering in Rafah.
Israel issued a March 10 deadline for Hamas to return the hostages or face a ground offensive in Rafah, but it hasn’t offered a plan for ensuring civilian safety. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested they could evacuate north, the direction many fled from. Though Cairo opposes accepting refugees, it’s bracing for the possibility that Israel’s operation could push thousands of Palestinians across its border.
Meanwhile, the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. Washington is pushing for a separate resolution that calls for a cease-fire “as soon as practicable” and urges Israel to scrap its plan to invade Rafah.