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News February 21, 2024

CFE joins call for release of Julian Assange

The Centre for Free Expression joins in the world-wide call for an end to the persecution of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange facing a 175-year prison term in the United States if extradited by Britain. In a letter today to President Joe Biden, sent jointly with Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, CFE called on the American President to drop his government’s pursuit of Mr. Assange.

“Under President Obama’s administration, the Department of Justice made the decision not to bring charges against Julian Assange. This decision was, in large part, because it had been established that the prosecution of Mr. Assange under the Espionage Act could be used to justify the targeting of investigative journalists for their everyday activities,” the letter said.

President Trump reversed this decision – seeking the extradition and prosecution of Mr. Assange, consistent with his general attack on journalists and the media. The U.S. charges against Mr. Assange are not for stealing top secret documents, but for publishing the classified documents provided by American whistleblower, Chelsea Manning, which exposed American war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Assange has been recognized as an exceptional publisher and journalist by organizations around the world. He has received dozens of awards for his journalism, including the Gavin MacFadyen Award, The Economist New Media Award, the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism and the Walkley Award, Australia’s equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize.

In their open letter in November 2022, The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and El País said the prosecution of Mr. Assange under the Espionage Act “sets a dangerous precedent” that threatened to undermine the U.S. First Amendment and the freedom of the press. The letter went on to say that “Obtaining and disclosing sensitive information when necessary in the public interest is a core part of the daily work of journalists, …. “If that work is criminalized, our public discourse and our democracies are made significantly weaker.”

Urging President Biden to do the right thing, today’s letter reminded him of Thomas Jefferson’s warning, “our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”