Julian Assange gestures from the window of a prison van as he is driven into Southwark Crown Court in London on May 1, 2019, before being sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for breaching his bail conditions in 2012.(Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)

Imprisoned Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and anonymous crypto artist Pak have raised over $54 million with their NFT collection “Censored.” The proceeds will support Assange’s legal fees as he fights pending extradition to the U.S. from London.

“It’s really a way of getting a different narrative out about Julian’s case,” Assange’s brother, Gabriel Shipton, told the Hill. “It’s a way to use this platform, to use this art to get to the real heart of what this case is about: censorship and press freedoms, freedom of communication, free internet.”

More than 10,000 supporters of the detained WikiLeaks founder joined AssangeDAO to fund the winning bid of 16,593 ETH, or $52 million, in the 48-hour online auction for Clock, a single-edition NFT that counts the number of days since Assange was arrested in April 2019. It is now the second-most expensive NFT artwork, behind only Everydays—The First 5000 Days by Beeple.

The “Censored” auction also featured a pay-what-you-wish open-edition NFT where each participant could create their own work by writing a short message to be “censored.” Each contribution was converted into an image.

A total of 29,766 buyers paid a collective 671 ETH ($2.1 million), breaking Pak’s existing record for an open-edition NFT. The artist was the work’s top bidder, paying 100 ETH ($31,000).

After the U.K.’s High Court approved Assange’s extradition in December, Shipton stepped up his efforts to win Assange’s freedom, communicating with a number of cryptocurrency enthusiasts on the secure messaging app Telegram.

The team that came together to form AssangeDAO includes developer Amir Taaki, Irish journalist Rachel-Rose O’Leary, Berlin mathematician Silke Noa, and two hacker activists known as McKenna and Fiskantes.

The first piece in the open edition of “Censored” was created and purchased by Pak. Courtesy of Pak.

AssangeDAO is a decentralized autonomous organization that operates on a blockchain and is run by the community at large, rather than a central governing body. By pooling the financial resources of thousands of people, DAOs have the ability to make large-scale financial transactions that are normally the purview of billionaires and massive corporations.

Contributors to AssangeDAO each get a proportional percentage of the DAO’s governance token, which will be used to make decisions about what to do with the NFT. Based on CoinMarketCap data, the tokens are trading at around $0.002165 as of press time, down over 28 percent since launching at 10 a.m. yesterday.

In December, 4,000 contributors to the similarly motivated FreeRossDAO raised 2,836 ETH ($12.2 million) to purchase the Ross Ulbricht Genesis Collection NFT for $5.93 million on SuperRare. The auction was raising money for the legal efforts of Ross Ulbricht, founder of the darknet market website Silk Road, who was given a double life sentence without parole in 2015 on numerous charges including money laundering, narcotic trafficking, and computer hacking.

“Censored,” an NFT collection by Pak and Julian Assange. Courtesy of Pak.

“FreeRoss happened, and that was a big success—that gave us an indication” a similar project for Assange might work, Taaki told Wired.

“This is tens of thousands of people coming together to show real strength—the Power of the People,” AssangeDAO community lead Joshua Bate wrote on Discord. “In less than one week, we have shown that decentralized and distributed peoples can band together to fight injustice.”

The power of DAOs can only go so far, however. In November, ConstitutionDAO raised more than $40 million in an effort to win a first printing of the U.S. Constitution at a Sotheby’s New York auction. The widely publicized effort failed when Citadel CEO Kenneth Griffin, a major art collector, purchased it for $43.2 million.

Ross Ulbricht, Perspective from freeross’s Ross Ulbricht Genesis Collection.

The money from the sale will not go directly to Assange, but to the Hamburg-based non-profit Wau Holland Foundation, which is supporting his legal battle. On February 7, the day the “Censored” auction began, Assange’s legal team put in an appeal application to the U.K. Supreme High Court, and is now waiting to hear back whether the court will hear the case.

“Julian’s like a rat in a maze, really. There’s no way out,” Shipton said. “The legal battle just extends and extends, and it’s looking more and more likely that he will be in the U.S.A. sooner than we think.”

Due to Wikileaks’ role in leaking confidential documents provided by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, Assange has been charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917. He faces up to 175 years in jail if convicted.

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