The Biden administration's Department of Justice must drop its prosecution and extradition appeal of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, according to a letter organized by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and joined by a coalition of two dozen press freedom, civil liberties, and international human rights groups.
ACLU, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Knight First Amendment Institute, Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders are among the signatories delivering this unified message to the Acting Attorney General.
As the letter states, “While our organizations have different perspectives on Mr. Assange and his organization, we share the view that the government’s indictment of him poses a grave threat to press freedom both in the United States and abroad.” First Amendment experts across the spectrum have long said the indictment of Assange threatens basic press freedom rights of countless journalists around the country. President Biden campaigned on restoring the values of press freedom to the United States, and this is a critically important way for the Justice Department to follow through on that promise.
The Trump administration brought widely-denounced charges under the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in 2019, culminating in a U.K. extradition trial that ended last month with a decision against the U.S. government. That decision was rendered on the grounds that subjecting Assange to the U.S. prison system would be “oppressive.”
The charges, as we have written previously, are among the most disastrous press freedom issues in the country. The Biden administration's Department of Justice now has an opportunity and an obligation to end this dangerous charade. As we outline in the letter, the appropriate path forward is to stop pursuing the appeal of the extradition and to drop the charges (and the alarming precedent they could set) entirely. As our coalition letter argues:
The indictment of Mr. Assange threatens press freedom because much of the conduct described in the indictment is conduct that journalists engage in routinely—and that they must engage in in order to do the work the public needs them to do. Journalists at major news publications regularly speak with sources, ask for clarification or more documentation, and receive and publish documents the government considers secret. In our view, such a precedent in this case could effectively criminalize these common journalistic practices.
Former President Obama came into office promising the “most transparent administration in history,” but its use of the Espionage Act against journalistic sources left a dark stain on its press freedom legacy. Biden has come into office with similarly lofty rhetoric about the importance of press freedom and the role of journalists. The continuing Assange prosecution is perhaps the first major test of those ideals, and his Department of Justice should act accordingly.
Read the entire coalition letter below, and see a full list of signatories on its final page.