Several months after a British judge blocked his extradition to the U.S.–citing that conditions in America’s inhumane prison system would be detrimental to his health–WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange continues to be held in a maximum-security prison in the United Kingdom.
The mistreatment of Assange over the past decade has been defined as “psychological torture” by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer.
“Yet, there is still no real end in sight to Assange’s Promethean plight,” said syndicated columnist Robert Scheer.
The U.S. government, first under Donald Trump and now under Joe Biden, is appealing the extradition ruling and sources say a decision in the case is due to be announced any day now.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges asserts that Assange’s case is a clear threat to freedom of the press given that he acted in the capacity of a publisher, in the same way as the global media outlets that printed the content released by WikiLeaks did.
Hedges noted that publishers of the Washington Post, New York Times, and other media have been charged with a crime for publishing the content unearthed by Wikileaks.
“Your job [as a publisher] is not to be partisan,” said Hedges. “Your job is to expose the machinations of power, the crimes of power, the lies of power–whoever’s in power. And that’s precisely what Julian did. when he was going after Bush with the Iraq War Logs, the Democrats loved him.”
“But as soon as his journalistic integrity led him to also expose the inner workings of the Democratic Party establishment, they turned on him as vociferously as the Republicans,” said Hedges. “I’ve been stunned at what an egregious assault [Assange’s persecution] is on press freedom and how the institutions that purport to care about freedom of the press have been complicit in the persecution of Julian.”
As Biden marked World Press Freedom Day with praise of heroic independent media, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden pointed out that his government still seeks to jail Assange for the act of journalism.
The famed national security whistleblower took the administration to task on Monday, after Secretary of State Antony Blinken boasted of the US devotion to “press freedom” and “the safety of journalists worldwide.”
Assange’s ongoing prosecution is impossible to square with those vows, Snowden said.
“This would be more persuasive if the White House weren’t aggressively seeking a 175-year sentence for the publisher of award-winning journalism of global importance – despite pleas from every significant press freedom and human rights organization,” Snowden tweeted.
While Biden spoke of the importance of “truth-tellers who refuse to be intimidated” in celebrating World Press Freedom Day, his administration continues to pursue the 18-count indictment against the
Assange, including charges under the Espionage Act brought by the Trump administration in 2019.
Altogether, Assange faces nearly two centuries behind bars, with most charges linked to the publication of classified material – such as Iraq and Afghan war logs – leaked in 2010 by former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.
Though the newly installed administration has reversed many of Trump’s policies, it is continuing to seek Assange’s extradition from the UK, over a chorus of objections from press freedom groups.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and dozens of press freedom, human rights, and privacy rights organizations across five continents have co-signed an open letter to the U.K. government, calling for the immediate release of the imprisoned WikiLeaks founder.
Seventeen of the 18 charges against Assange are under the 1917 Espionage Act, marking the U.S.’s first-ever attempt to prosecute the publication of truthful information in a fundamental test of the First Amendment’s protection of press freedoms.
Assange has also been charged with conspiring to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which uses language similar to the Espionage Act.
Press freedom groups have warned since his arrest and initial indictment in April 2019 that a U.S. conviction for Assange—an Australian citizen who operated in Europe and was granted asylum and citizenship by Ecuador—would criminalize publishing around the world, allowing the United States to dictate what journalists can publish beyond its borders.