A coalition of civil liberties and human rights groups have urged the Biden administration to drop efforts to extradite the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, calling the case against him “a grave threat to press freedom.”
The letter was organised by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a group founded by Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. It has been endorsed by more than twenty groups, including Amnesty International, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and many more.
“The indictment of Mr. Assange threatens press freedom because much of the conduct described in the indictment is conduct that journalists engage in routinely — and that they must engage in in order to do the work the public needs them to do,” the letter said.
“News organizations [sic] frequently and necessarily publish classified information in order to inform the public of matters of profound public significance.”
If we can get him off, then the precedent hasn’t been set
If extradited to the United States, Mr Assange faces a prison sentence of 175 years for his role publishing details of American war crimes. These include WikiLeaks exposes ‘The Afghan War Diaries’, ‘Iraq War Logs’ and ‘Collateral Murder’, a video showing the US military killing two Reuters employees in Iraq.
Last month, the New York Times interviewed Mark Davis, principal of Xenophon Davis, about the impact Mr Assange’s extradition to America would have on journalism:
For Mr. Assange’s supporters and press freedom advocates, though, the issues at stake transcend him or politics.
“This is so much bigger than Julian,” said Mark Davis, a former journalist who worked with Mr. Assange in Australia, where they are from. If Mr. Assange is prosecuted, “it will have a chilling effect on all national security journalism,” Mr. Davis said, adding: “If we can get Julian off, then the precedent hasn’t been set. If Julian goes down, then it’s bad for all of us.”
Mr. Davis, who is now a lawyer specializing in national security and whistle-blower cases, is on the board of Blueprint for Free Speech, an Australia-based nonprofit group that advocates for press freedoms and whistle-blower protections.
For now, it appears the US Justice Department remains committed to appealing the denial of its request to extradite Mr Assange.
Support for Julian Assange growing in Australia
However, support for the Australian Government to intervene in Mr Assange’s case is growing, with a number of public figures and parliamentarians speaking out about the unjust nature of his prosecution.
Last year, Julian Hill, the Federal MP for Bruce, told Parliament that “his treatment corrupts our alliance with the United States and makes a mockery of the United Kingdom’s justice system and international law.”
More recently, journalists and other public figures have voiced support for Mr Assange in ‘A Secret Australia, Revealed by the WikiLeaks exposes’, a collection of essays about the impact Wikileaks has had on the Australia.
“Of the charges, 17 relate to publication, and one to acting to protect the identity of his source. He is not charged with doing anything other than what any journalist might do in the course of their work” Felicity Ruby and Peter Cronau, the book’s editors, write.
“What Assange’s extradition proceedings have taught us is the extraordinary steps to which the state will go to suppress its misdeeds and crimes.”