Inside the Assange court hearing and why the case threatens press freedom

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Stella Assange, wearing a blue jacket and holding a blue bag, smiles as she stands outside the UK high court, surrounded by protestors supporting Assange.

Stella Assange leaves the U.K. High Court after a previous hearing in Julian Assange’s case in January 2022. Stella Morris congratulated by a supporter as she leaves the High Court by Alisdare Hickson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Press freedom & the Assange extradition: What’s happened, what’s next

Julian Assange remains in a British prison, awaiting yet another hearing in late May on the appeal of his extradition to the United States. On March 26, the U.K. High Court ruled that the U.S. must provide “assurances” on three of the grounds on which Assange’s legal team sought to appeal. If the court does not find the assurances satisfactory, Assange can bring his full appeal.

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As a result, we remain dangerously close to Assange being sent to the U.S. to be tried under the Espionage Act for obtaining and publishing documents from a source, Chelsea Manning, back in 2010.

Before the U.K. High Court’s latest decision, Caitlin Vogus of Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) interviewed Chip Gibbons of Defending Rights & Dissent, via X Space, about Assange’s February extradition appeal hearing in London and what the case means for press freedom in the U.S. and beyond. Gibbons attended the hearing in person and wrote about it for Jacobin.

Gibbons explained, “If Julian Assange is brought here and he loses his Espionage Act case, that is the death of a lot of First Amendment protections for press freedom. And on top of that, there are huge stakes for press freedom globally,” given that the U.S. is claiming jurisdiction to prosecute Assange even though he’s an Australian who operated WikiLeaks from abroad.

“This (prosecution) is also an attack on the right to investigate war crimes, as well as to resist war and militarism,” Gibbons added, noting that authoritarians seeking to prosecute journalists who investigate their regimes have already viewed Assange’s case as a precedent. “It wasn’t just U.S. secrets they published. … If you were a bad actor anywhere in the world, there was a point where your documents would end up on WikiLeaks.”

The current administration may claim it wouldn’t pursue similar charges against a “conventional” journalist, but there’s nothing in the Espionage Act stopping future administrations from doing so. Former President Donald Trump, for example, has made clear that he intends to imprison journalists — specifically those who publish leaks — in a potential second term.

Gibbons explained that the theory that WikiLeaks “solicited” violations of the Espionage Act by announcing its desire to publish secrets is particularly problematic. The prosecution’s theory, he explained, is that “by running this news publication that boldly announces if you have secrets in the public interest, they will publish them, which is what journalists are supposed to do, you’ve engaged in conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act.”

Gibbons also discussed the disturbing lack of transparency around the U.K. hearing, ranging from the court informing international journalists at the very last minute of whether they would be allowed access, to requiring them to listen to the proceedings from overflow rooms with audio outages. It’s disturbing, to say the least, that a case that might undermine journalists’ ability to report secrets is itself plagued by secrecy.

You can listen to the entire X Space here and read Gibbons’ article for Jacobin here.

FPF also hosted a conversation about the case in February with FPF Executive Director Trevor Timm; Electronic Frontier Foundation Executive Director Cindy Cohn; Carrie DeCell, senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute; and Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. You can watch that discussion here.

You can find more articles and resources about the Assange case — and information about how you can help — at

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