Brazilian president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has called for the release of Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange from UK maximum-security prison Belmarsh. Assange has been detained since 2019, and is awaiting extradition to the US, where he faces up to 175 years in prison over the publication of classified materials. 

Taking to Twitter on Tuesday, Lula posted a photo of himself shaking hands with WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief, Kristinn Hrafnsson, with WikiLeaks’ ambassador, Joseph Farrell, standing nearby. The whistleblowing organization’s top representatives arrived in the Latin American country expecting to also hold a meeting with Brazilian lawmakers. 

According to the accompanying text, the two informed the Brazilian official about “Julian Assange’s health situation and fight for freedom.” Lula da Silva, in turn, asked his guests to convey his solidarity to the imprisoned WikiLeaks co-founder. He also expressed hope that “Assange be released from his unfair imprisonment.

In his own tweet, Hrafnsson said that he had had a private meeting with the Brazilian president-elect, whom he thanked for his “ongoing support,” and described as a “true man of passion, vision and sympathy.”  

Several media outlets reported that the Wikileaks delegation was planning to meet with Humberto Costa, the president of the Human Rights Commission of the Brazilian Senate, as well as lawmakers from the lower chamber on Tuesday. The whistleblower’s representatives allegedly discussed with the MPs a number of steps that the latter could take, including sending a letter to the US embassy in Brasilia urging Washington to drop the charges against Assange.

Lula da Silva, who was elected as president in late October in a tight race against incumbent right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, has long been a vocal supporter of Assange. 

Assange has been in Britain’s Belmarsh high security prison since April 2019, when he was removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London after Quito revoked his asylum status.   

The journalist, whose health has severely deteriorated in UK custody, awaits extradition to the US. There, he faces a 175-year sentence on charges of leaking secret documents he received from a US Army analyst alleging US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Wikileaks supporters insist that Assange was simply practicing journalism by publishing the documents, which were redacted to remove some sensitive information. Activists claim Washington retaliated against the outlet and its co-founder for exposing its own war crimes.

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