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By Defending Rights and Dissent.

Defending Rights & Dissent welcomes the news that Julian Assange will go free for the first time in over a decade. For over five years, Assange has been confined to Belmarsh Prison in London, as he contested his extradition to the US. Prior to that, Assange spent seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy under what a United Nations Work Group deemed to be arbitrary detention. 

On Monday, it was announced that Assange had filed a guilty plea in the US District of Northern Mariana Islands. Assange, who faced 17 counts under the Espionage Act and one count of conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud And Abuse Act, pled guilty to single count of conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense Information in violation of the Espionage Act. According to the plea deal, Assange conspired with whistleblower Chelsea Manning to obtain classified documents without proper authorization. These documents contained revelations about war crimes and other abuses of power. Assange, who is reportedly already en route to the Northern Mariana Islands, will make an appearance in court and be sentenced to time served. He will then return to Australia a free man.

Chip Gibbons, policy director of Defending Rights & Dissent had this statement,

“We are ecstatic that Julian Assange will go free. Assange’s only ‘crime’ was exposing US war crimes as a journalist and publisher. The world is a better place because of Assange and WikiLeaks publishing revelations from whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Manning and Assange should both be lauded as heroes.

Yet, as soon as WikiLeaks began making these historic revelations, the United States brought down the hammer. Both Manning and Assange were subject to what UN officials described as torture. Manning was imprisoned under the Espionage Act and Assange was subject to a litany of abuses by US intelligence services. In 2021, it was revealed that after WikiLeaks published information about secret CIA hacking tools, the CIA considered kidnapping or even assassinating the journalist.

In 2019, the Trump administration reversed the previous administration’s course and brought an unprecedented indictment against Assange. Although Obama had normalized the practice of using the Espionage Act to imprison journalists’ sources, this marked the first time a publisher or journalist had been charged under the Act. A successful conviction would have set a precedent that would have allowed for the prosecution of national security journalists broadly. Assange’s freedom is therefore welcome news. And it would not be possible without the global grassroots movement to defend press freedom by demanding the US government halt this monstrous persecution.

While today is a day of rejoicing, it is troubling that the US government ever brought these charges against Assange. And while we completely understand and support Assange’s decision to walk free, we are troubled that the government forced him to plead guilty under the Espionage Act to do so. Plea deals, it must be stressed, set no legal precedent. As far we are concerned, the US government’s decision to charge Assange under the Espionage Act remains unconstitutional due to the First Amendment’s press freedom guarantees.

Our fight is far from over. The Espionage Act remains on the books and Assange’s victory only strengthens  our resolve to end the Espionage Act’s threat to our democracy once and for all.”