Press freedom groups call for the immediate release of Julian Assange

It was Julian Assange’s 49th birthday on 3 July. He did not have much to celebrate being incarcerated in in the high-security HMP Belmarsh for more than a year 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. But he would have cheered to know that on that day 40 press freedom groups and journalist organisations wrote to the Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (with a copy to Dominic Raab MP Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) calling for the British Government to release the Wikileaks founder and to block his extradition to the US. The charges against Julian carry a potential maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.

The co-signatures wrote: “On 24 June 2020, the US Department of Justice issued a second superseding indictment against Mr Assange, adding no new charges but expanding on the charge for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. This new indictment employs a selective and misleading narrative in an attempt to portray Mr Assange’s actions as nefarious and conspiratorial rather than as contributions to public interest reporting… 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”.

The open letter was initiated by the Courage Foundation, a whistle-blower support network.

Rebecca Vincent, director of international campaigns for Reporters without Boarders said: “Mr Assange has clearly been targeted for his contributions to public interest reporting. All charges against him should be dropped and he should be released without further delay.”

Assange’s lawyer Barry Pollack said: “The government’s relentless pursuit of Julian Assange poses a grave threat to journalists everywhere and to the public’s right to know.”

The freedom of expression groups say that a US conviction for Assange—an Australian citizen who operated in Europe and was granted asylum and citizenship by Ecuador—would allow the United States to dictate what journalists can publish beyond its borders.

The letter concludes: “We call on the UK government to release Mr Assange without further delay and block his extradition to the US – a measure that could save Mr Assange’s life and preserve the press freedom that the UK has committed to championing globally.”

Julian’s extradition proceedings are scheduled to continue for three weeks beginning 7 September.

Full list of the groups calling for Julian Assange’s release

Nathan Fuller, Executive Director, Courage Foundation

Rebecca Vincent, Director of International Campaigns, Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Adil Soz, International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Anthony Bellanger, General Secretary – International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
Archie Law, Chair Sydney Peace Foundation
Carles Torner, Executive Director, PEN International
Christine McKenzie, President, PEN Melbourne
Daniel Gorman, Director, English PEN
Kjersti Løken Stavrum, President, PEN Norway
Lasantha De Silva, Freed Media Movement
Marcus Strom, President, MEAA Media, Australia
Mark Isaacs, President of PEN International Sydney
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary, National Union of Journalists (NUJ)
Mousa Rimawi, Director, MADA – the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms
Naomi Colvin, UK/Ireland Programme Director, Blueprint for Free Speech
Nora Wehofsits, Advocacy Officer, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
Peter Tatchell, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Ralf Nestmeyer, Vice President, German PEN
Rev Tim Costello AO, Director of Ethical Voice
Robert Wood, Chair, PEN Perth
Ruth Smeeth, Chief Executive Officer, Index on Censorship
Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia, ARTICLE 19
Silkie Carlo, Director, Big Brother Watch
William Horsley, Media Freedom Representative, Association of European Journalists
Foundation for Press Freedom (Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa)
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bytes for All (B4A)
Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility (CMFR)
The Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP-Liberia)
The Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ)
Free Media Movement Sri Lanka
Freedom Forum Nepal
IFoX / Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkey
International Association of Democratic Lawyers
International Press Centre (IPC)
The International Press Institute (IPI)
Media Foundation for West Africa
Mediacentar Sarajevo
National Lawyers Guild International Committee
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)

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