2022 – The Guardian view on Julian Assange’s extradition: Bad day for the press | Editorial Board

THome Secretary Priti Patel’s decision to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States should worry anyone interested in journalism and democracy. Assange, 50, has been charged under the US Espionage Act, including publishing classified material. He faces up to 175 years in prison if convicted by a US court. This action potentially opens the door to the extradition of journalists around the world to the United States for leaking classified information by Washington.

The case against Assange relates to hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as diplomatic cables jointly released by WikiLeaks with the Guardian and other media organizations. They have exposed horrific abuses by the United States and other governments that would not otherwise have been exposed. Despite allegations to the contrary, the US authorities have not been able to find a single person whose death has been confirmed among thousands of US sources in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mr. Assange, who has a reputation for being a brilliant but tough character, has suffered enough. As of 2019, the Met Police has waited seven years for him to move out of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. He has since spent three years in Belmarsh Maximum Security Prison without being convicted of a crime. Assange should have been released on bail to be with his wife and two young children. To monitor him, authorities could insist that he be electronically flagged and monitored.

The use of the Espionage Act to prosecute him must be seen for what it is: an assault on press freedom. Like Carrie Dessel of the Knight Institute of the First Amendment Wrote In 2019, when the indictment was issued, “the collection, purchase and subsequent release of classified information … [is] What good national security and investigative journalists do every day.”

Ms. Patel could have refused the American request. Britain should be careful about handing over a suspect to a country with such a political Department of Justice. Her predecessor, Theresa May, halted the extradition of Gary McKinnon, who hacked the US Department of Defense. The UK could have judged that Mr Assange faces an unacceptably high risk of prolonged solitary confinement in a US maximum security prison. Instead, Ms. Patel dealt a blow to freedom of the press and the public, who have a right to know what their governments are doing on their behalf. not finished yet. Mr. Assange will resume.

What should have been charged. Since Mr. Assange released and did not leak classified documents, the Barack Obama administration has been reluctant to press charges. His lawyers correctly understood that this would jeopardize public interest journalism. It was Donald Trump’s team, who viewed the press as an “enemy of the people,” which took this step. It is not too late for the United States to drop the charges. On this year’s World Press Freedom Day, US President Joe Biden said: “The work of a free and independent media is more important now than ever.” Granting his freedom to return Assange will give meaning to these words.

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