News Outlets Ask US to Drop Assange Charges

Open letter from 'NYT,' others says prosecution 'sets a dangerous precedent' on free speech
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 28, 2022 12:46 PM CST
News Outlets Ask US to Drop Assange Charges
Julian Assange greets supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2017. Five major news organizations issued an open letter urging the US government to drop charges against Assange for obtaining and publishing state secrets.   (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

Five major news organizations have issued a joint open letter calling on the United States to drop charges against Julian Assange for publishing a massive trove of classified documents, saying the prosecution “sets a dangerous precedent and threatens to undermine America’s First Amendment and the freedom of the press.” The New York Times was joined by four European outlets: The Guardian, La Monde, El Paìs, and Der Spiegel, all of which worked with Assange in the past. Per the Times, Assange has been fighting extradition to the US since 2019, when he was arrested by British authorities on hacking-related charges.

Those charges were the result of a sealed indictment levied by then-Attorney General William Barr, who later added charges based on the Espionage Act, which makes it a crime to disseminate national security secrets. As a result, Assange faces up to 175 years in prison if convicted. In 2011, Assange sparked an international firestorm by publishing some 250,000 State Department cables via Wikileaks. Former Army analyst Chelsea Manning was later convicted of leaking the cables. Notably, the letter states that all five news outlets criticized Assange in 2011 for publishing unredacted copies of diplomatic cables, potentially putting lives at risk. The letter does not ask the government to drop hacking charges.

The letter also notes that the Obama administration chose not to press charges because it could not differentiate Assange's actions from that of journalists from "major news outlets." That thinking shifted during the Trump administration, it adds. Per Reuters, Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s British embassy for seven years before being “dragged out” and arrested by British authorities. His lawyers have appealed to Britain’s High Court to halt extradition, approved in June by then-Foreign Secretary Priti Patel, per El País. Since then, Assange has been held in a maximum security prison normally reserved for terrorists, according to La Monde. (Read more Julian Assange stories.)

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