On Thursday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested by the UK police inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he was granted political asylum in 2012. This termination of asylum by Ecuador in violation of international law came a week after WikiLeaks warned the public it had received information from two high level Ecuadorian government sources about a US-backed plan for the Ecuadorian government to expel Assange from its embassy.
Assange’s lawyer confirmed he had been arrested under a US extradition warrant for conspiracy to publish classified information with whistleblower Chelsea Manning revealing government war crimes in 2010. Specifically, this relates to WikiLeaks’ publication of the Collateral Murder video, documents concerning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the US Diplomatic Cables.
In making a statement outside Westminster Magistrate’s Court in London, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks Kristinn Hrafnsson told reporters that Assange’s arrest marks a “dark day for journalism”. This prosecution of Assange is recognised by experts on free speech rights as an attack on freedom of the media everywhere.
James Goodale, First Amendment lawyer and former general counsel of The New York Times, said this about the US government’s efforts to charge a journalist who is not American and did not publish in the US, possibly with espionage:
“If the prosecution of Julian Assange succeeds, investigative reporting based on classified information will be given a near death blow.”
David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression stated that
“prosecuting Assange would be dangerously problematic from the perspective of press freedom.”
Responding to this latest development on the WikiLeaks founder, American Civil Liberties Union commented,
“any prosecution by the United States of Mr Assange for WikiLeaks’ publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional, and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organisations.”
Freedom of Press Foundation also issued a statement, alerting that the charge against Assange is a serious threat to press freedom” and noted that it “should be vigorously protested by all those who care about the First Amendment.”
Just a day before his arrest, WikiLeaks held a press conference with the attorney representing Assange. They exposed the Ecuadorian government’s spying operation against Assange,