Press freedom groups and journalist organisations are among 40 groups to today call for the British Government to release Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on his 49th birthday.
The International Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, Pen International and the National Union of Journalists are among those to sign the letter.
Assange is currently in HMP Belmarsh 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.
Supporters fear that if convicted, Assange could spend the rest of his life behind bars.
The co-signers write: “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’.
“Whereas previous presidents have prosecuted whistleblowers and other journalistic sources under the Espionage Act for leaking classified information, the Trump Administration has taken the further step of going after the publisher. ”
Assange has also been charged with conspiring to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
The open letter was initiated by the Courage Foundation, a whistleblower support network.
Executive director of PEN International Carles Torner said: “This indictment effectively opens the door to criminalising activities that are vital to many investigative journalists who write about national security matters.
“Beyond the case itself, we are concerned that the mere fact that Assange now risks extradition and potentially decades behind bars if convicted in the USA has a chilling effect on critical journalism, which is essential for exposing the truth about crimes committed by governments.”
Rebecca Vincent, director of international campaigns for Reporters Rebecca Vincent 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.”
On 24 June, the US Department of Justice issued a second superseding indictment against Assange, expanding on the charge for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.
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.”
He said the latest indictment was “yet another chapter in the US Government’s effort to persuade the public that its pursuit of Julian Assange is based on something other than his publication of newsworthy truthful information”.
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.”
Assange’s extradition proceedings, which commenced for one week in February 2020 in London, 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
National Lawyers Guild International Committee
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)