French parliament votes against handing asylum to Wikileaks founder Assange

·3 min read

The French parliament rejected on Friday night a resolution calling on the government to grant political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

After a long and intense debate, MPs in France's national assembly (lower house) voted 31 against and 17 in support of a proposed text brought forward by MP Jennifer de Temmerman, from the opposition group known as Libertés et Territoires.

According to the document, which is not legally binding, “Assange’s crime is that he told the truth and was engaged in journalism.”

“Now more than ever, France must provide asylum to Assange,” it said.

Another paragraph of the draft resolution called for the facilitation of asylum procedures for whistleblowers, proposing to abolish the need for them to be in France at the time of the request.

Despite the results of the vote, the text received support from Communist party presidential candidate Fabien Roussel and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, as well as a mix of MPs from the Greens, centrist party UDI and some members of the ruling LREM.

Giving back a voice

"He has denounced barbaric acts and unspeakable blunders that needed to be made public," said Stéphane Peu from the French Communist party.

"Today is a victory," Temmerman said. "We are giving a voice back to those who don't have one."

Pour Jean-François Mbaye (LREM), "No other human rights defender would be able to put up with such a disproportionate situation," Jean-François Mbaye, from the ruling LREM party told AFP.

He warned however that even if Assange's quest was "noble", he pointed to numerous legal and diplomatic obstacles in the resolution.

On the far left, François Ruffin (France Unbowed) bemoaned what he called "French cowardice" in the face of Assange's predicament.

Cédric Villani, from the Greens party, who signed the resolution said "France would only be respected in its decisions if it spoke out loudly on such matters."

Assange's lawyers had already begun a legal request for his asylum back in 2020.

The debate came just a few days after an agreement reached by the lower house and the Senate on a proposition brought forward by centre-right MP Sylvain Waserman (Modem) designed to better protect whistleblowers in France.

Long legal saga

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been held at London's high-security Belmarsh prison since 2019 because he is seen as a flight risk, having previously skipped bail in 2012 over claims he sexually assaulted two women in Sweden.

He spent seven years at Ecuador's embassy in London to avoid being removed to Sweden to face the allegations that were later dropped.

Assange was on 24 January 2022 given permission to appeal a decision to extradite him to the United States where he could face a lifetime in prison in connection with the publication of 500,000 secret military files relating to the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The High Court in London in December overturned a lower court's ruling not to send him to the United States on the grounds he would be a suicide risk.

But lawyers for Assange then challenged the decision, arguing that the country's highest court should rule on "points of law of general public importance".

The judges stated that they themselves were not granting him a right of appeal at the Supreme Court but Assange had the right to do so himself. It is now for the Supreme Court to decide whether to take the case.

This outcome has been welcomed by Assange's partner Stella Morris and his lawyers.

A coalition of anti-war groups and thousands of peace campaigners have signed a statement calling for Assange's immediate release.

Nathan Fuller, director of the Courage Foundation, said: "While the Biden administration is confronting US adversaries over their press freedom shortcomings, it should address its own hypocrisy.

"Locking up Julian Assange for exposing the truth about US wars is an insult to all those struggling for peace and human rights."

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