By Ben Swann
JUNE 30, 2023 – This morning, Pope Francis met with the wife and family of Julian Assange, the man widely known as the founder of WikiLeaks who is currently incarcerated at the U.K.’s Belmarsh Prison. He is also facing extradition to the United States, where he faces a number of charges under the Espionage Act of 1917.
"The Holy Father has received in audience Mrs. Stella Assange, with family members," a Vatican statement read. Stella was accompanied by her two sons, Gabriel and Max, and her mother.
“This morning @Pontifex granted our children and I a private audience. We are overwhelmed,” Stella tweeted after the meeting, with a photo of herself in St. Peter's Basilica and the hashtag #FreeAssangeNOW.
In an interview with The Associated Press after the meeting, Stella discussed how Pope Francis wrote a letter to her husband in March 2021: “He has provided great solace and comfort and we are extremely appreciative for his reaching out to our family in this way. He understands that Julian is suffering and is concerned.”
Stella is spearheading the effort for her husband’s freedom, but the Vatican has not clarified whether it supports Julian’s release. A Vatican spokesman emphasized that papal audiences are private affairs.
Today’s meeting also comes just weeks after the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) publicly called for the release of Julian Assange, describing his imprisonment as "a threat to all journalists worldwide." EFJ President Maja Sever said, “This bad decision by the British government is good news for all autocracies and enemies of freedom of the press.”
Stella is in the midst of an ongoing speaking tour for her husband’s release. Last month, she visited Julian’s native Australia, where she pleaded with authorities to act in his defense. “If Julian is extradited, he will be buried in the deepest, darkest hole of the U.S. prison system, isolated forever,” she warned members of the National Press Club in Canberra. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also spoken up in Julian’s defense, saying, “Nothing is served on the ongoing incarceration of Julian Assange.”
In the U.S. Julian is wanted over his role in the publication of a series of confidential military records and videos, a move which the Pentagon claims has endangered lives. Under Assange’s leadership, in April 2010 WikiLeaks released video footage showing U.S. soldiers shooting 18 civilians from a helicopter in Baghdad, Iraq, including two journalists. Then, in Nov. 2010, Wikileaks published 250,000 files exposing U.S. espionage on the United Nations and foreign governments.
July 3, 2023 will be Julian’s 52nd birthday (his fifth while incarcerated in Britain). If found guilty, he faces a term of up to 175 years.