Rapper M.I.A. gives UK concert to protest Julian Assange detention

London (AFP) –


Hundreds turned out Tuesday to hear rapper M.I.A. belt out some of her best-known hits at a protest concert in support of jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange outside Britain's interior ministry in central London.

"This is not about me, this is about Julian Assange," the British-Sri Lankan hip-hop innovator told the crowd, who included fashion designer Vivian Westwood and Assange's biological father John Shipton.

"In this time of fake news, he shouldn't have been the person who pays the price," M.I.A. said from a stage erected in the road outside the ministry as light rain fell.

Assange is currently being held in the high-security Belmarsh prison in southeast London as he fights a US bid to extradite him on charges filed under that country's Espionage Act.

The 48-year-old Australian, who appeared in public for the first time in six months last month for a court hearing, could be sentenced to up to 175 years in a US prison if extradited and then convicted on all charges.

Assange used WikiLeaks to publish classified military and diplomatic files in 2010 about US bombing campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq that proved highly embarrassing to the US government.

He was taken into custody in Britain earlier this year after being dragged out of the Ecuadoran embassy in London where he had been holed up since 2012.

Assange's supporters at the concert held up signs decrying the British government and interior minister Priti Patel, who will have to sign off on Assange's extradition once the courts have made their determination.

Waving glowing sticks, they chanted "A decision: no extradition!"

Westwood, wearing an Assange mask over her own face at times, told the crowd she was "a freedom fighter" there "to protest against government corruption and the death of justice".

"Julian Assange will die unless we set him free," she said.

Assange, who appeared confused when he appeared at an October 21 court hearing, has complained about the conditions in which he is being kept in prison.

Independent UN rights expert Nils Melzer said last week that "unless the UK urgently changes course and alleviates his inhumane situation" it was putting his life "at risk".