May 4, 2023 — Yesterday was World Press Freedom Day, a day in which the United States’ hypocrisy over its stated support of freedom of the press was on full display. U.S. officials held events and press conferences to claim they support protections for journalists around the world, even condemning adversarial countries for their treatment of their reporters, but activists reminded them that these words ring hollow as long as the U.S. continues to persecute and prosecute imprisoned journalist Julian Assange.
Activists take to the streets for Julian Assange and the First Amendment
Chicago: Press Freedom Webinar
DC: Funeral March for the Death of Press Freedom
NYC: Press Freedom Rally
Los Angeles: Hollywood die-in
U.S. officials confronted over hypocrisy on press freedom
- Hat tip to Caitlin Johnstone for transcribing these exchanges
- Kevin Gosztola has also written on these official comments
CodePink protests Sec. State Blinken
Press Sec. Jean-Pierre refuses to engage
“Advocates on Twitter today have been talking a great deal about how the United States has engaged in hypocrisy by talking about how Evan Gershkovich is held in Russia on espionage charges but the United States has Espionage Act charges pending against Julian Assange. Can you respond to that criticism?” asked Portnoy.
“What is the criticism?” asked Jean-Pierre.
“Well, the criticism is that — the argument is that Julian Assange is a journalist who engaged in the publication of government documents,” Portnoy replied. “The United States is accusing him of a crime under the Espionage Act, and that, therefore, the United States is losing the moral high ground when it comes to the question of whether a reporter engages in espionage as a function of his work. So can you respond to that?”
“Look, I’m not going to speak to Julian Assange and that case from here,” said Jean-Pierre.
State Dept. dodges Associated Press on Assange
Associate Press reporter Matt Lee
“So then can I ask you, as was raised perhaps a bit abruptly at the very beginning of his comments this morning, whether or not the State Department regards Julian Assange as a journalist who would be covered by the ideas embodied in World Press Freedom Day?” asked Lee.
“The State Department thinks that Mr. Assange has been charged with serious criminal conduct in the United States, in connection with his alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in our nation’s history,” Patel replied. “His actions risked serious harm to US national security to the benefit of our adversaries. It put named human sources to grave and imminent risk and risk of serious physical harm and arbitrary detention. So, it does not matter how we categorize any person, but this is – we view this as a – as something he’s been charged with serious criminal conduct.”
“Well, but it does matter actually, and that’s my question. Do you believe that he is a journalist or not?” asked Lee.
“Our view on Mr. Assange is that he’s been charged with serious criminal conduct in the United States,” said Patel.
“Yeah, but anyone can be charged with anything,” Lee replied. “Evan Gershkovich has been charged with a serious criminal offense in Russia, and you say that he is a journalist, and he is obviously. And I just want to know whether or not you, the State Department – regardless of any charges that he faces – believe that he is a journalist, or he is something else.”
“The United States doesn’t go around arbitrarily detaining people, and the judicial oversight and checks and balances that we have in our system versus the Russian system are a little bit different,” said Patel, before again repeating his line that Assange has been charged with a very serious crime.
“Okay. So, basically, the bottom line is that you don’t have an answer. You won’t say whether you think he is a journalist or not,” Lee replied.
Sam Husseini follows up with State Department
Independent journalist Sam Husseini
“You refer to WikiLeaks allegedly damaging US national security,” said Husseini. “People might remember that WikiLeaks came to prominence because they released the Collateral Murder video. And what that showed was US military mowing down Reuters reporters – workers in Iraq. Reuters repeatedly asked the US Government to disclose such information about those killings, and the US government repeatedly refused to do so. Only then did we know what happened, that the US helicopter gunship mowed down these Reuters workers, through the Collateral Murder video? Are you saying that disclosure of such criminality by the US government impinges US national security?”
“I’m not going to parse or get into specifics,” Patel said, before again repeating his line that Assange stands accused of serious crimes in a way that harmed US national security.
Trevor Timm in The Guardian | If you care about press freedom, make some noise about Julian Assange
If Assange is extradited, his case will go from being ignored in the United States to an absolute circus. The justice department will dig its heels in even further to avoid the embarrassment of dropping the charges during a media firestorm. By then it may be too late anyway. A new president may be in office, who would not only ignore pleas from journalists but may revel in them.
Ask yourself: do you trust Donald Trump not to turn around and use this precedent on the reporters he considers the “enemies of the people” and has previously wanted thrown in jail? If not, then now is the time to make your voice heard about the dangerous case against Julian Assange.
John Nichols, The Nation | If Biden Really Believes in Press Freedom, He’ll Stop Targeting Julian Assange https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/biden-julian-assange-press-freedom/
“Tonight, our message is this: Journalism is not a crime!” declared Biden, as he put aside the evening’s punch lines for a serious show of solidarity with jailed and persecuted journalists around the world, including Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter who has been falsely accused of espionage by the Russians, and Austin Tice, a kidnapped American journalist who is believed to be held by the Syrian government.
“The free press is a pillar—maybe the pillar—of a free society, not the enemy,” Biden told the assembled reporters, editors, TV anchors, and radio hosts. “You make it possible for ordinary citizens to question authority—and, yes, even to laugh at authority—without fear or intimidation. That’s what makes this nation strong. So, tonight, let us show ourselves and the world our strength, not just by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”
The statement was a welcome departure from the attacks on journalism that characterized the administration of Donald Trump, who claimed in 2019 that “the press…is the enemy of the people.”And it anticipated the participation of high-profile Biden administration members, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in events scheduled for Wednesday that will honor World Press Freedom Day.
Counter Points | Assange Advocate SHREDS Biden Hypocrisy On Free Press
“Ryan and Emily are joined by Ann Wilcox who shreds Biden for claiming to support a free press while continuing to push forward with the prosecution of Julian Assange.”