40+ Rights Groups Call on UK to Free Julian Assange
WikiLeaks publisher turns 49 in prison, facing U.S. extradition
Dozens of press freedom, human rights, and privacy rights organizations across five continents have co-signed an open letter to the U.K. government, calling for the immediate release of imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The publisher, who turns 49 years old today in HMP Belmarsh, is facing extradition to the United States where he has been indicted under the Espionage Act for WikiLeaks’ 2010-11 publications of the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan War Diaries, and State Department cables. If convicted, Mr Assange would face up to 175 years in prison, “tantamount to a death sentence.”
The co-signers write,
“This [indictment] is an unprecedented escalation of an already disturbing assault on journalism in the US, where President Donald Trump has referred to the news media as the ‘enemy of the people’. Whereas previous presidents have prosecuted whistleblowers and other journalistic sources under the Espionage Act for leaking classified information, the Trump Administration has taken the further step of going after the publisher.”
Seventeen of the 18 charges against Mr Assange are under the 1917 Espionage Act, marking the U.S.’s first-ever attempt to prosecute the publication of truthful information in a fundamental test of the First Amendment’s protection of press freedoms. Mr Assange has also been charged with conspiring to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which uses language similar to the Espionage Act.
Reporters without Borders, PEN International, ARTICLE19, the International Federation of Journalists, and the National Union of Journalists are among the 40 rights groups who have signed on to the letter, initiated by the Courage Foundation, a whistleblower support network which campaigns for Mr Assange’s freedom and the public’s right to know.
Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International, said:
“This indictment effectively opens the door to criminalising activities that are vital to many investigative journalists who write about national security matters. Beyond the case itself, we are concerned that the mere fact that Assange now risks extradition and potentially decades behind bars if convicted in the USA has a chilling effect on critical journalism, which is essential for exposing the truth about crimes committed by governments.”