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ÖJC Österreichischer Journalisten Club Organized Discussion Evening

Vienna: On the occasion of what may be the last hearing at the Supreme Court in Great Britain, the ÖJC is actively supporting the global efforts for the release of Julian Assange. February 22, 2024, the ÖJC Österreichischer Journalisten Club Organized an exciting and top-class discussion evening in its press salon in Vienna’s Blutgasse 3, 1010 Wien. Under the discussion chair of Daphne Hruby, an ORF journalist who has won several journalism awards, with Prof. Fritz Hausjell, communications scientist, deputy.

Institutional board member at the University of Vienna and president of “Reporters Without Borders Austria”, as well as Prof. Manfred Nowak, Univ. Prof., Secretary General of the European Inter-University Center for Human Rights and Democratization, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. Various speakers had said on the occasion.

He has no business there,” says Prof. Nowak in the introduction to the current themed evening on the occasion of the final hearing of Julian Assange, who was imprisoned in London’s Belmarsh high-security prison.

This is about freedom of the press and watchdog journalism,” explains Prof. Hausjell. Further imprisonment in the USA can also be equated to a “suicide in installments” with an increasingly deteriorating state of health, adds the lawyer Prof. Nowak.

While in this country criminal imprisonment is the serving of a sentence with the aim of reintegrating into society, in other countries such as Russia or the USA it is a “retaliatory prison” in which one is supposed to suffer under extremely adverse conditions.

The legal aspects regarding the extradition of Assange were also particularly considered. Prof. Nowak is disappointed with the Swedish justice system and is shocked by the “motherland of justice” – Great Britain. It remains to be seen how the pressure from the USA will be bowed to and how European court judgments will be enforced.

“Can one still speak of a legal system or freedom of the press if one ignores this? That would be arbitrary,” says Daphne Hruby regarding the pressure from the British on the European Court of Human Rights, who want to prevent or not implement an interim injunction and still extradite Assange. In January 2002, “Fuck the Chamber” was the USA’s response in Bosnia Herzegovina to the injunctions of the Human Rights Chamber and numerous innocent people were extradited to Guantánamo, says Prof. Nowak, remembering his time as a judge there.

Both Prof. Hausjell and the lawyer Prof. Nowak agrees that future exposers in the spirit of Assange or Snowden have to be afraid when they take on those in power and are often confronted with completely different criminal charges.

Julian Assange is being prosecuted under an espionage statute from 1917 that was “unearthed” under Trump’s presidency or with allegations of sexual offenses. This procedure is similar to the criminal prosecution of Julian Hessenthaler, who caused a stir in Austria with the IBIZA video and was ultimately arrested for a drug offense. Prof. Hausjell sees significant parallels here and says “he did things in Austria that journalists can also do.”

In the final discussion round, ÖJC President Ing. Welzl asked what the lessons were for the future. Edward Snowden made stricter data protection regulations possible and Julian Assange can be seen as a protagonist for the European whistleblower principle, i.e. “whistleblowing”. Not only Julian Assange is facing an important court decision, but also global press freedom. In view of this impending court ruling, investigative journalists will continue to have to worry about being prosecuted for uncovering illegal events. It is therefore important to the ÖJC to shed light on the background and to deal intensively with the events surrounding Julian Assange,” said ÖJC President Ing. Norbert Welzl.

The ÖJC has been supporting Julian Assange and thus the preservation of press freedom since 2020, adds the Secretary General of the ÖJC, Ing. Barbara Meister.

Prof. Hausjell sees a glimmer of hope for Julian Assange, saying “there is such a thing as mercy before justice.”

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