In a bold move symbolizing solidarity with those facing violations of fundamental rights, Rome has announced its intention to confer honorary citizenship upon Julian Assange, the embattled founder of WikiLeaks. The announcement was made by city councilor Antonella Melito on Tuesday, noting that the process will be finalized once the necessary documentation is in place.
Assange, currently 52 years old, remains imprisoned at London's high-security Belmarsh Prison. Since 2019, he has been contending against extradition to the US. There, he faces potential life imprisonment due to WikiLeaks' 2010 release of classified US Army intelligence associated with the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Melito underscored that through this symbolic gesture, Rome aims to project a message of unity and backing for individuals who are unjustly detained and condemned, infringing upon their essential rights.
This proposal to bestow honorary citizenship upon the Australian activist was initiated by Rome's former mayor, Virginia Raggi. Emphasizing the importance of this decision, Raggi took to social media, stating that this marked a significant move towards safeguarding both Julian Assange as an individual and as a representative symbol. She further stressed the paramount importance of persistently defending press freedom, drawing attention to Assange's predicament.
Interestingly, earlier this year, Stella, Assange's wife, had an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican. Reflecting on the encounter, she revealed to the Catholic Herald magazine that the Pope had extended a letter of support to her husband in March 2021. This gesture by Pope Francis provided a beacon of hope during a particularly challenging time for Assange, especially after a UK court's refusal to grant him bail, despite concerns over his prospective treatment in the US.
The drawn-out nature of Assange's detention has also elicited frustration from Australian officials. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese voiced his discontent in August over the absence of a diplomatic resolution for Assange's situation. He vowed to consistently urge the US to terminate their prosecution of Assange. This commitment stands even after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken dismissed Canberra's prior entreaties concerning Assange's welfare.
Albanese was candid with reporters, remarking, “This has persisted excessively. It's high time for a resolution.” He further reaffirmed Australia's unyielding stance and continued dedication to representing their views to the US administration.