Defending Rights & Dissent joined with a wide range of press freedom, civil liberties, and international human rights advocacy organizations to call on acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson to drop the indictment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The Trump administration took the unprecedented step of indicting the Australian publisher under the Espionage Act. This marks the first time that a publisher of truthful information has been indicted under the Espionage Act. Assange also faces one count under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which has similarly been opposed by press freedom groups.
“Julian Assange is an Australian national who has been charged by the United States for publishing information about US war crimes, human rights violations, and other abuses of power. Some of this information has been used by international human rights advocates to seek justice on behalf of victims of human rights abuses. It’s in the public interest for the US public and others to know how their government conducts foreign policy. It is completely outrageous for the US to seek jail the publisher as opposed to holding itself accountable,” said Chip Gibbons, Defending Rights & Dissent policy director.
In January 2021, a UK judge rejected the US’s request to extradite Assange. The judge rejected Assange’s press freedom arguments, but found that given the prison conditions in the US Assange should not be extradited. In one of its last acts, the Trump administration filed an appeal.
The signatories of the letter call for Wilkinson to withdraw that appeal, as well as dismiss the underlying charges against Assange.
While the Obama administration led an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, using the Espionage Act to jail those who give information to the media, they balked at prosecuting Assange. The Obama administration rightfully realized that any prosecution against Assange would set a precedent that could be used against journalists and publishers broadly. Donald Trump’s Department of Justice, under both Jeff Sessions and William Barr had no such qualms.
Other organizations that signed the letter include the Freedom of the Press Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union, Pen America, Centering for Constitutional RIghts, Amnesty International USA, Reporters without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalist, and Knight First Amendment Institute.
Read the full letter here.