As we enter a new year, Julian Assange remains in a London jail, facing extradition to the United States and 175 years in prison. However, momentum demanding the United States drop the charges against Assange is building.
On Nov. 28, 2022, The New York Times, LeMonde, Der Spiegel, El País, and The Guardian sent an open letter from the publishers of five of the most influential papers describing what they view as the dire threat to freedom of the press posed by Assange’s prosecution, and calling for all charges under the Espionage Act of 1917 to be dropped. Meanwhile, Ari Melber presented an in-depth segment on MSNBC and there were opinion pieces in The Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald and elsewhere.
Late last year, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and John Young, the founder of Cryptome.org — a site that collects information about freedom of expression, government secrecy and other issues — both asked the Department of Justice to indict them for possessing or publishing the same documents Assange published. Ellsberg revealed that he was in possession of confidential documents leaked by former military analyst Chelsea Manning and given to him as backup by WikiLeaks. Young said he published some of the same documents days before WikiLeaks did.
“If they succeed with Julian Assange, … we will not have a First Amendment,” Ellsberg said. “This accusation against Assange would be illegal against an American citizen, so we think it’s selective prosecution and it should cease,” adds Young.
Press freedom and human rights groups from all over the world spoke up in 2022 and made it clear: The prosecution of Assange is a threat to the First Amendment and our foundational democratic values. In April, a coalition led by PEN International formally petitioned the U.K. government to stop Assange’s extradition. In July, the International Federation of Journalists – the world’s largest association of journalist trade unions – launched a global campaign calling on the United States to #FreeAssange. In December, a coalition of 21 prominent organizations – led by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the ACLU and Amnesty International – wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging him to #DropTheCharges. The #FreeAssange movement also picked up support from leaders in Mexico, Brazil, and Australia. Activists in Naples are asking the Italian government to grant Assange Italian citizenship.
The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the PRESS (Protect Reporters from Exploitative State Spying) Act, which would strengthen “shield” protections for journalists, preventing the government from forcing journalists to reveal information about their confidential sources. The bill passed the House unanimously. Combined with the Justice Department’s new media guidelines, which rolled back some of the more abusive practices of the Trump administration, there is clear momentum for the cause of press freedom.
As pressure builds to free Assange, Assange Defense is planning something big in Washington D.C. for World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2023.
Human rights activists and press freedom groups are organizing every day in hopes of making 2023 the year that Julian Assange is released, all charges are dropped and he is able to begin to rebuild his life.
This is part of the “The Persecution of Julian Assange” Dig series.