International: Julian Assange is free – but threats to press freedom remain

International: Julian Assange is free – but threats to press freedom remain - Media

Photo: Alisdare Hickson / Wikimedia Commons

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the news that Julian Assange has been released from Belmarsh Prison and has left the United Kingdom following a plea deal with authorities in the United States. 

This is good news for Assange, his family, and those who led the campaign for his release. As a publisher, journalist and co-founder of Wikileaks, he worked to expose human rights violations committed by the US army and to hold those responsible to account. Assange should never have faced punishment for this vital work. 

ARTICLE 19 joins the international freedom of expression community in welcoming his release. At the same time, we reiterate our call for greater protections for media freedom and investigative journalism.  

‘ARTICLE 19 welcomes the news that Julian Assange is finally going to be free,’ said Quinn McKew, Executive Director for ARTICLE 19.  

‘We are relieved that his ordeal is coming to an end. Assange faced years of imprisonment for bringing vital information to the public. The US government, and governments around the world, must recognise that media freedom is a cornerstone of our democracies and do everything it can to protect it. 

‘However, this is not a slam-dunk win for press freedom. The US should have never brought these charges. The single remaining criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defence documents puts investigative journalism at severe risk in the United States and beyond. Journalists that cover national security, the armed forces and defence do this day in and day out as part of providing transparency and accountability to hold abuses of power in check.

We are all at risk if the government can hold an archaic law, the Espionage Act, over the heads of journalists to silence them. 

The charge under the Espionage Act undermines the principles of media freedom, accountability, and independent journalism that Assange, his legal team, and campaigners had championed throughout his case, which began in 2012. The fact that his release from Belmarsh prison is a result of plea deal is a clear reminder of how important it is to redouble our efforts defending media freedom and pushing for accountability.