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Is Press Freedom in Danger after Assange Ruling?

Julian Assange
Is freedom of press threatened by the U.K. granting the U.S. the right to extradite Julian Assange? Credit: Cancilleria de Ecuador, CC BY-SA 2.0

The United Kingdom’s High Court ruled on Friday that the United States had the right to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Now many commentators are asking whether Assange’s extradition threatens journalists’ freedom to publish information.

The U.S. won the right to extradite Assange after the U.K.’s top court found that they could assure his safe treatment when he arrived in America. Many were immediately alarmed by this decision, as the U.S. has been accused of conspiring against Assange in the past:

“It is highly disturbing that a U.K. court has overturned a decision not to extradite Julian Assange, accepting vague assurances by the United States government, which has reportedly plotted to kidnap or even assassinate Mr. Assange, that if Mr. Assange is extradited he will be provided appropriate care and not be held in a super-maximum facility,” said Assange’s lawyer, Barry Pollack.

Is freedom of the press threatened by Julian Assange’s extradition?

Amy Goodman, the host of the independent news program Democracy Now! interviewed Ben Wizner, the director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, and Assange’s brother Gabriel Shipton on the consequences Assange’s extradition will have on journalism.

Wizner said that he believed that the case could completely reshape investigative journalism in America, creating a legal precedent that could vastly reduce press freedom:

“What was not at stake in this appeal is the much more significant legal issue for global press freedom. And that is: Can charges under the U.S. Espionage Act result in the extradition of a foreign publisher for publishing truthful information? And this is the issue that really journalists around the world should be watching more closely, and journalists in the United States, in particular, should be a lot louder about, because whatever they may think about WikiLeaks and however they may want to choose to find themselves in contrast to WikiLeaks, this is a precedent that is going to affect every investigative journalist in the United States.”

Shipton said that he believed the U.S. was completely incapable of guaranteeing his brother’s safety, and that “he will likely die here, if not beforehand.”

He also maintained that the “charges against Julian need to be dropped by the Biden administration and the Merrick Garland DOJ here in the U.S.”

UK High Court grants US government appeal for extradition

The UK High Court had previously denied the US’s appeal to extradite Assange in January, citing the vulnerable mental state of the publisher and the possibility that he would take his own life if subjected to prison conditions in the US.

The founder of Wikileaks, which opened up vast quantities of government information to the public, and who hid out in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for years, is wanted in the US on eighteen charges — 17 of which are under the US Espionage Act. Assange is charged with releasing hundreds of thousands of classified military documents which had been part of diplomatic cables during the years 2010 –2011.

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