Pope meets with wife and family of Julian Assange, who says pontiff ‘concerned’ by his suffering

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Pope Francis met Friday with imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s wife Stella, who said the pope’s gesture in receiving her was evidence of his “ongoing show of support for our family’s plight” and concern over her husband’s suffering.

In an interview with The Associated Press after the audience, Stella Assange recalled that Francis had sent a letter to her husband in March 2021, during a particularly difficult period.

“He has provided great solace and comfort and we are extremely appreciative for his reaching out to our family in this way,” she told AP. “He understands that Julian is suffering and is concerned.”

Assange has spent four years in Britain’s Belmarsh Prison fighting extradition to the US, where he faces up to a 175-year sentence on espionage charges for publishing classified military and diplomatic cables through WikiLeaks.

Before that, Assange had taken asylum for seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations.

Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed, but British judges have kept Assange in prison pending the outcome of the long-running extradition case.

The Vatican didn’t release any details of the private audience, other than to confirm that it happened. The Argentine Jesuit pope has long expressed solidarity with prisoners, frequently visiting detainees on his foreign visits and prioritizing prison ministry when he was archbishop in Buenos Aires.

Stella Assange, a lawyer who married her husband in prison in 2022, said she and Francis spoke in Spanish, and that she showed him two photos of their wedding. She called the audience “overwhelming” and noted that she brought along her mother, brother and the couple’s two young sons, Gabriel and Max, who were conceived during Julian Assange’s time in the embassy.

The visit came as Stella Assange has been seeking to drum up political support for her husband’s cause, including a visit to his native Australia last month. She said there was a growing consensus that his continued detention was inhumane.

“I have a lot of faith that the situation will change, and there are a lot of people around the world, from all parts of the world here and elsewhere, who are trying to get justice and see freedom for my husband,” she said.

Citing Australia’s intervention, human rights organizations and press freedom organizations, she said there was growing consensus that “what is being done to my husband is inhumane, that he is suffering, that he’s been in prison for four years for publishing true information revealing the killing of innocents and criminality and injustice.”

To his supporters, Assange is a secrecy-busting journalist who exposed US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. American prosecutors allege he helped former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published, putting lives at risk.

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