ARTICLE 19 calls for US Justice Department to drop charges against Assange

Freedom of expression organisation ARTICLE 19 has called on the US Justice Department to drop charges against Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange and end attempts to extradite him to the US.

Executive Director Thomas Hughes said:

“If Julian Assange is extradited, it would be the first time that the Espionage Act has been used in the United States to prosecute a journalist for publishing information that is both truthful and in the public interest, redefining protection of journalism in the US.  This would set a dangerous precedent for media freedom and put editors and journalists in the US and beyond at risk, by an Administration that has been openly hostile to a free press.”

“While publishers must always balance the safety of individuals against the public interest, the Espionage Act is a vaguely worded blunt instrument that should not be used to prosecute journalists, publishers and whistleblowers who disclose information that is in the public interest. This goes against the First Amendment and international human rights treaties that protect freedom of expression.

“The US Justice Department has a duty to protect freedom of expression. We urge them to drop the charges and end their efforts to extradite Assange. Given the uncertain constitutional grounds for this indictment, we urge the UK to not facilitate extradition.”

The US justice department filed 17 new charges on May 23. These include charges for violation of the Espionage Act by publishing classified information through WikiLeaks.

ARTICLE 19 has repeatedly raised concerns that the US prosecution of Julian Assange for publishing classified material or interacting with sources could criminalize the newsgathering process and create chilling effect on freedom of expression.

Free societies everywhere are best served by journalism that holds governments and other powerful actors to account. Under international law, governments must show that any restrictions on freedom of expression and access to information are prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society to protect a national security interest. Limits on access to information should only apply to information that governments can demonstrate would cause a specific and articulated harm.

Journalists and publishers should not be liable under espionage laws for disclosing information of public interest. Equally, whistle-blowers and those who provide information to media outlets should not be prosecuted if there is a strong public interest in the release of the information.

The US Government must also urgently improve the protection of whistleblowers in the country, and enact legislation based on international standards that protect journalists from revealing their confidential sources and materials.

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Notes to Editor

ARTICLE 19 is a freedom of expression organisation that campaigns for a world where all people everywhere can freely express themselves and actively engage in public life without fear of discrimination.