Monday, 25 October 2021 10:13

Press freedom bodies call for Assange charges to be dropped Featured

Press freedom bodies call for Assange charges to be dropped Image by Caitlin Johnstone from Pixabay

Pressure is being ramped up on the US as the date approaches for Washington's appeal on Wednesday and Thursday at the High Court in London against a ruling denying its request to extradite WikiLeaks founder and publisher Julian Assange.

A group of more than 25 press freedom, civil liberties and international human rights advocacy organisations issued a statement in mid-October, calling for the charges against Assange to be dropped.

On 4 January, British District Judge Vanessa Baraister ruled that Assange should not be extradited, saying the risk he would commit suicide in a US jail were too high.

Assange faces criminal charges for publishing classified information that was leaked to WikiLeaks by an American soldier, then known as Bradley Manning, but now, after gender reassignment surgery, known as Chelsea Manning.

The Australian, one of the best-known hackers in the country, was arrested by British police on 11 April 2019 and removed from the Ecuador embassy where he had taken refuge after being granted asylum.

His asylum was withdrawn by Ecuador shortly before he was arrested and he appeared in court soon thereafter. The US made a formal request for his extradition on 6 June 2019.

The letter was signed by Access Now, American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, Centre for Constitutional Rights, Committee to Protect Journalists, Defending Rights & Dissent, Demand Progress Education Fund, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, First Amendment Coalition, Freedom of the Press Foundation, Free Press Unlimited, Human Rights Watch, Index on Censorship, Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, National Coalition Against Censorship, Open The Government Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, PEN America, Project on Government Oversight, Reporters Without Borders,, The Press Freedom Defence Fund of First Look Institute, and Whistleblower and Source Protection Program (WHISPeR) at ExposeFacts.

The organisations said they were were of one voice that the criminal case against Assange posed a grave threat to press freedom both in the US and abroad.

"We were disappointed that the Department of Justice appealed the decision by Judge Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court to reject the Trump administration’s extradition request," the statement said. "Especially in light of the recent news report, we urge you to drop that appeal and dismiss the underlying indictment."

The news report referred to claimed that the CIA had discussed plans in 2017 to either kill or abduct Assange.

The detailed story, published in September, said the American spy outfit was angry that WikiLeaks had leaked some of its hacking tools that year, which the whistleblower organisation called Vault 7.

"As we explained in our earlier letter, journalists routinely engage in much of the conduct described in the indictment: speaking with sources, asking for clarification or more documentation, and receiving and publishing official secrets," the organisations said.

"News organisations frequently and necessarily publish classified information in order to inform the public of matters of profound public significance.

"We appreciate that the government has a legitimate interest in protecting bona fide national security interests, but the proceedings against Assange jeopardise journalism that is crucial to democracy.

"In our view, a precedent created by prosecuting Assange could be used against publishers and journalists alike, chilling their work and undermining freedom of the press.

"Major news organisations share this concern. The charges against Assange have been condemned by virtually every major American news outlet, even though many of those news outlets have criticised Assange in the past.

"In light of these concerns, and in light of the shocking new reporting on the government’s conduct in this case, we respectfully urge you to drop the ongoing appeal of Judge Baraitser’s ruling and to dismiss the indictment of Assange."

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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