- The Washington Times
Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Critics of the previous Trump administration‘s prosecution of jailed WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange urged President Biden’s top federal law enforcement official to reverse course Monday.

A coalition of 20 groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International, among others, asked the new head of the Justice Department to drop its case against Mr. Assange.

In a letter to acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson, the groups expressed their “profound concern” about the ongoing criminal and extradition proceedings and their consequences on press freedom.

“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,” wrote the coalition, which also includes groups including Human Rights Watch, the Knight First Amendment Institute, and the Freedom of the Press Foundation, to name a few.

Mr. Assange, an Australian who launched WikiLeaks in 2006, was charged during the Trump administration in connection with his website’s publication of classified U.S. diplomatic and military files. He was living in London when the charges were unsealed in April 2019, and he has been jailed in a British prison ever since pending the outcome of extradition proceedings between the U.S. and U.K.

The charges against Mr. Assange include violations of the U.S. Espionage Act and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and the Trump administration has requested that he be held accountable in an American court. Judge Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London denied that U.S. extradition request in early January, however, but the Justice Department appealed before Mr. Biden became president.

In the letter to Mr. Wilkinson, whose tenure atop the Justice Department started Jan. 21, the groups asked him to drop both the criminal indictment charging Mr. Assange and the extradition request.

“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,” the groups wrote.

“In addition, some of the charges included in the indictment turn entirely on Mr. Assange‘s decision to publish classified information,” the coalition continued. “News organizations frequently and necessarily publish classified information in order to inform the public of matters of profound public significance. We appreciate that the government has a legitimate interest in protecting bona fide national security interests, but the proceedings against Mr. Assange jeopardize journalism that is crucial to democracy.”

Mr. Assange, 49, has similarly argued that he acted as a journalist by publishing classified documents online. The Justice Department under the previous administration maintained otherwise, however.

Neither the Justice Department nor the White House immediately responded to messages requesting comment on Mr. Assange.

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