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Featured Press Release

Germany: Letter of 120 politicians, artists and journalists, calling for the freedom of Julian Assange

12 July 2021

Dear Madam Chancellor,

We are extremely concerned about the health and life of the journalist Julian Assange, and are writing to you in advance of your planned visit to US President Joe Biden in Washington this month.

For eleven years now, Julian Assange, founder of the whistleblowing platform Wikileaks, has been deprived of his liberty. Since April 2019, he has been in detention at Belmarsh high-security prison in London, where he must await the decision on whether he is to be extradited from the United Kingdom to the USA. There, he faces the threat of a 175-year prison sentence for his work as a journalist, including his exposure of US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Like many well-known human-rights organisations and journalists’ organisations, we view the persecution of Julian Assange as an attack on press freedom and freedom of speech, which must be decisively rejected. Anybody committed to human rights and democracy must work to achieve Julian Assange’s freedom.

Madam Chancellor, we request your assistance in ensuring that Julian Assange does not have to remain in detention, where his health is being systematically destroyed through continued isolation. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Professor Nils Melzer, has been warning for some time that Julian Assange shows signs of exposure to psychological torture and that he must be immediately released. His fiancée, Stella Morris, reported after her last visit to Belmarsh that his imprisonment was driving him into a “deep depression and despair”, after she and their two young children had previously been refused any direct contact for eight months.

Julian Assange’s poor state of health was the main argument made in the ruling by a British judge on 4 January 2021, disallowing his extradition to serve a lengthy prison sentence of unknown duration in the US. Against this background, the fact that the journalist is still imprisoned in Belmarsh under extremely harsh conditions is even more incomprehensible. Julian Assange is still being deprived of his freedom in the UK, for the sole reason that the US government has appealed against the ruling for political reasons, and is still insisting on Assange’s extradition, which would be life-threatening for him.

The treatment of Julian Assange contradicts principles of the rule of law; the harsh conditions of his detention constitute a humanitarian scandal. In view of his critical state of health, urgent action must be taken.

It is now up to Joe Biden to end the judicial process against Julian Assange begun by his predecessor in office and drop the charges against him. A new turn of events may be brought about by the most recent revelations of the key US prosecution witness, Icelander Sigurdur Ingi Thordarson, who admitted in an in-depth interview with the international press having lied in his accusations incriminating Julian Assange and that he was paid for doing so. We ask you to take into account these exonerating statements.

Madam Chancellor, we urgently appeal to you to build bridges in the case of Julian Assange. Please make clear in your discussions with US President Joe Biden in Washington how important the dropping of the charges against the Wikileaks founder is in terms of defending press freedom – in order for him to return to good health in liberty in the company of his family.

We know what great hopes are resting on you – on the part of Julian Assange’s family, as well as numerous international supporters of the journalist. We ask you to find a humanitarian solution for Julian Assange which is also face-saving for the US President.

This would be a striking and enduring humanitarian gesture at the end of your time in office and would after all offer Joe Biden and opportunity to now break with the era of Donald Trump in defending press freedom and freedom of expression.

We hope for your support.

Yours sincerely,

Günter Wallraff

Further signatories:

Jakob Augstein (journalist, publisher), Berivan Aymaz (Member of the North-Rhine Westphalian Landtag), Dietmar Bartsch (Member of the Bundestag, chairman of the Left Party parliamentary group), Gerhart Baum (former Federal Minister of the Interior), Canan Bayram (Member of the Bundestag), Markus Beckedahl (journalist), Rolf Becker (actor), Konrad Beikircher (satirist), Sibylle Berg (author), Roswitha and Erich Bethe (Bethe Foundation), Paul Böhm (architect), Nora Bossong (author), Micha Brumlik (writer), Anke Brunn (former State Minister of Science for North-Rhine Westphalia), Frank Castorf (theatre director), Sevim Dagdelen (Member of the Bundestag), Herta Däubler-Gmelin (former Federal Minister of Justice), Fabio de Masi (Member of the Bundestag), Hans Demmel (media manager), Bijan Djir-Sarai (Member of the Bundestag), Petra Erler (former Head of Cabinet at the EU Commission), Lisa Fitz (satirist), Sigmar Gabriel (former Federal Foreign Minister), Kerstin Gleba (publisher), John Goetz (journalist), Katrin Göring-Eckardt (Member of the Bundestag, chairwoman of the Alliance 90/The Greens parliamentary group), Anselm Grün (Benedictine monk, author), Serap Güler (State Secretary for Integration), Gregor Gysi (Member of the Bundestag), Hektor Haarkötter (media scientist), Robert Habeck (chairman of Alliance 90/The Greens), Lutz Hachmeister (film producer), Heike Hänsel (Member of the Bundestag), Frank Heinrich (Member of the Bundestag), Monique Hofmann (General Secretary of the German Journalists’ Union), Elfriede Jelinek (author, Nobel Laureate in Literature), Hans Jessen (journalist), Tilo Jung (journalist, Jung & Naiv), Barbara Junge (journalist, taz newspaper editor-in-chief), Markus J. Karsten (publisher), Navid Kermani (author), Markus Kompa (lawyer), Reiner Kröhnert (satirist), Gabriele Krone-Schmalz (writer), Sebastian Krumbiegel (musician), Wolfgang Kubicki (Member of the Bundestag, Vice-President of the Bundestag), Friedrich Küppersbusch (television producer), Oskar Lafontaine (former Federal Minister of Finance), Karl Lauterbach (Member of the Bundestag), Klaus Lederer (Deputy Governing Mayor and State Senator for Culture and Europe for Berlin), Hans Leyendecker (journalist), Volker Lösch (theatre director), Albrecht von Lucke (writer), Markus Meckel (theologian), Jeanine Meerapfel (President of the Akademie der Künste), Nils Melzer (UN Special Rapporteur on Torture), Eva Menasse (author), Franz Meurer (Catholic priest), Robert Misik (author), Amira Mohamed Ali (Member of the Bundestag, chairwoman of the Left Party parliamentary group), Hans Mörtter (Protestant pastor), Andy Müller-Maguhn (IT expert), Albrecht Müller (writer), Linus Neumann (Chaos Computer Club spokesperson), Wolfgang Niedecken (musician), Bahman Nirumand (author), Max-Jacob Ost (journalist, podcaster), Cem Özdemir (Member of the Bundestag), Osman Okkan (filmmaker), Pagonis Pagonikas (filmmaker), Claus Peymann (theatre director), Fritz Pleitgen (journalist, former WDR Director-General), Dagmar Ploetz (translator), Emitis Pohl (entrepreneur), Sabine Poschmann (Member of the Bundestag), Christine Prayon (actor, satirist), Anja Reschke (journalist, editor and host of Panorama), Georg Restle (journalist, ARD Monitor), Rezo (Youtuber), Moritz Rinke (author), Claudia Roth (Member of the Bundestag, Vice-President of the Bundestag), Eugen Ruge (author), Susana Santina (journalist), Joachim Sartorius (former Director of the Berliner Festspiele), Frank Schätzing (author), Volker Schlöndorff (film director), Gerhard Schmidt (President of the German Televison Academy), Renate Schmidt (former Federal Minister of Health), Wolfgang M. Schmitt (film critic), Wolfgang Schorlau (author), Matthias Schreiber (pastor), Ingo Schulze (author), Frank Schwabe (Member of the Bundestag), Gesine Schwan (political scientist), Alice Schwarzer (writer, editor of “Emma” magazine), Winfried Seibert (lawyer), Martin Sonneborn (Member of the European Parliament), Michael Sontheimer (journalist), Klaus Staeck (poster artist), Bernd Stegemann (dramaturge), Uli Stoll (author), Hans-Christian Ströbele (former Member of the Bundestag), Margit Stumpp (Member of the Bundestag), Wolfgang Thierse (former President of the Bundestag), Valentin Thurn (filmmaker), Uwe Timm (author), Ilija Trojanow (author), Georg Stefan Troller (author), Max Uthoff (satirist), Günter Verheugen (former Minister of State, former Vice-President of the European Commission), Antje Vollmer (former Vice-President of the Bundestag), Sahra Wagenknecht (Member of the Bundestag), Jörg Wagner (media journalist), Norbert Walter-Borjans (chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Germany), Harald Welzer (sociologist), Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul (former Federal Minister for Economic Development and Cooperation), Ulrike Winkelmann (journalist, taz newspaper editor-in-chief), Ranga Yogeshwar (physicist, scientific journalist)

German version https://assange-helfen.de/ 

Categories
Featured Hearing Coverage Press Release

US government given limited permission to appeal January decision that Assange should not be extradited

A Court has notified the parties involved in Julian Assange’s extradition case that the United States government’s appeal will be listed for a hearing.

The decision by the High Court simply gives permission for the US government to attempt to challenge the ruling, but it does not reflect the merits of the US arguments.

Permission has been granted on a limited basis, allowing only narrow, technical grounds to form the basis of the appeal. Crucially, the High Court did not allow the United States to appeal any of the factual findings concerning Assange’s condition. No date has been set for the hearing.

Assange’s extradition was blocked in January on the grounds that it would be “oppressive”, citing the circumstances of the extradition, as well as his clinical history and Autism Spectrum disorder diagnosis, which, combined, would drive him to suicide. The High Court affirmed Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s conclusions concerning his clinical condition, as well as the independent expert evidence on which she relied.

Assange faces a sentence of up to 175 years in prison if extradited.

The appeal was lodged by the Trump Administration, just two days before President Biden took office, but revelations reported last weekend dealt a new blow to the credibility of the Department of Justice case.

Icelandic investigative journalists revealed that the DoJ’s lead witness, an Icelandic man convicted of sex crimes against minors, fraud and embezzlement, who is also a diagnosed sociopath, now admits that he fabricated allegations against Assange in exchange for immunity from US prosecutors. Those discredited allegations form the basis of the Second Superseding indictment against Assange and were even cited in the extradition judgment delivered on January 4th.

Julian Assange’s fiancee, Stella Moris, said:

“Six months ago, Judge Vanessa Baraitser blocked the extradition of my partner, Julian Assange, because consigning him to the US prison system would have amounted to signing his death warrant. That should have been the end of it.

“The new revelations concerning the DoJ’s lead witness, Sigurdur Ingi Thordarson, confirm what we all knew: that the case against Julian has been built on lies. The case is rotten to the core, and nothing that the US government can say about his future treatment is worth the paper it is written on.  This is a country whose agents plotted to kill Julian on British soil; who harried his solicitors and stole legal documents; who even targeted our six-month-old baby.

This entirely baseless, abusive, anti-First Amendment case was driven by the previous administration for nefarious reasons. The administration instrumentalised the law to pursue the political objective of disappearing Julian as a deterrent to journalists in the United States and elsewhere.

“I am appealing directly to the Biden government to do the right thing, even at this late stage. This case should not be dragged out for a moment longer. End this prosecution, protect free speech and let Julian come home to his family.

“The current administration admits that the Trump Department of Justice lacked independence. It seems inconceivable that President Biden would want to continue with this case – because Julian’s freedom is coupled to all our freedoms and no democratic society can ever make journalism a crime.

“If the Biden Administration does not end this now, the case will limp through the courts while Julian remains in prison indefinitely: unconvicted, suffering and isolated, while our young children are denied their father. Julian spent his 50th birthday on the 3rd of July behind bars in Belmarsh prison, where he has been on remand since April 2019. He is not a criminal. He is a journalist and a publisher, and he is being punished for doing his job.

“This case shows nothing but contempt for the First Amendment. Repressive regimes welcome the Biden administration’s prosecution of Julian because it signals that imprisoning the press and silencing political dissent is practised and endorsed by the United States. Bringing this shameful prosecution demeans the values that the United States says it stands for. It reduces trust in both the US and the UK legal systems.

“Julian’s prosecution is vigorously opposed by The New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as the National Union of Journalists, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and virtually every press freedom and human rights organisation in the West, together with parliamentarians from around the world”.

Lawmakers in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Australia have renewed their calls for the Biden Administration to abandon the prosecution as international political pressure grows. A group of German MPs have written to Chancellor Angela Merkel, asking her to raise the issue with President Biden during her forthcoming trip to Washington.

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Commentary Featured

Assange’s Persecution Highlights U.S. & U.K. Hypocrisy

The United States and United Kingdom continue to imprison WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange for journalistic activity, under charges that press freedom experts across the political spectrum agree represent a grave and unprecedented threat to investigative journalism around the world. At the same time, U.S. and UK leaders use their international platforms to condemn other countries for the very same abuses of basic journalistic rights. Foreign leaders are taking notice, and pointing out this blatant hypocrisy in response. The Assange case no longer represents a hypothetical danger; it is actively undermining the West’s moral authority to push back on human rights violators around the world.

On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab held a joint press conference in which they condemned China, Russia, and other countries for press freedom violations.

Sec. Raab said,

“Violations of media freedoms are growing around the world at what I feel is an alarming rate.  And I welcome the unequivocal stance of the United States and the whole G7 on safeguarding those vital democratic bulwarks in our media freedoms.”

Sec. Blinken echoed those remarks, recognizing the

“The work that journalists are doing around the world in increasingly difficult and challenging conditions to inform people, to hold governments and leaders of one kind or another accountable.  Nothing is more fundamental to the good functioning of our democracies, and I think we are both resolute in our support for a free press.”

Blinken then condemned the “repression of media freedom across China and in other parts of the world.” 

Glaring Double Standard

Days later, Chinese Foreign Secretary Hua Chunying held a press conference in which she was asked about these types of comments, and she responded by calling attention to the glaring double standard underlined by Assange’s ongoing persecution. Chunying said,

“Some in the US, in the name of freedom of press and speech, wantonly smear and attack China. This in itself is spreading disinformation and a travesty of real freedom and democracy.

If they are truly defending freedom, why won’t they allow others to tell the truth when they are making up lies to confuse public opinion? If they are truly defending freedom, why is it that Mr. Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, was thrown in prison after being forced to shelter in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for seven years? If they are truly defending freedom, why not respect or at least tolerate the existence of other civilizations and systems? If they are truly defending freedom, why target views different from its “political correctness” and repress those holding such views? If they are truly defending freedom, why deprive other countries of their right and freedom to normal development and suppress them?”

Glenn Greenwald writes, ‘Antony Blinken Continues to Lecture the World on Values His Administration Aggressively Violates,’

“How can you run around the world feigning anger over other countries’ persecution of independent journalists when you are a key part of the administration that is doing more than anyone to destroy one of the most consequential independent journalists of the last several decades?”

Mads Andenæs, former UN special rapporteur on arbitrary detention and the chair of UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, criticized this double standard as well.

Azerbaijani President: “Let’s talk about Assange”

This week also saw the resurfacing of a video from November 2020, in which Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was interviewed by the BBC about repression in that country. Aliyev responded with questions about how the U.K. aided in the persecution of Assange,

“We have opposition, we have NGOs, we have free political activity, we have free media, we have freedom of speech. But if you raise this question, can I ask you also one? How do you assess what happened to Mr. Assange? Isn’t it the reflection of free media in your country?”

He continued, later in the interview,

“Let’s talk about Assange. How many years, sorry, how many years he spent in the Ecuadorian embassy, and for what? And where is he now? For the journalistic activity, you kept that person hostage actually killing him morally and physically. You did it, not us. And now he is in prison. So you have no moral right to talk about free media when you do these things.”

Reputational Damage

Julian Assange’s partner, Stella Moris, foresaw the issues Assange’s prosecution would pose for western governments in an interview last month, on the two-year anniversary of his arrest.

“The treatment of Julian is compromising the UK constantly all round the world. It’s giving authoritarian governments points to score all round the world both privately and in international fora like the UN. You cannot start a new values competition with China with Julian Assange in Belmarsh for publishing war crimes. It just does not work. You don’t get to take the moral high ground with this as your starting point.”

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Featured Past Events

Capitol Calling Party: In Defense of Whistleblowers

On Tuesday, April 27, CODEPINK Congress focused on freeing Julian Assange and all whistleblowers. 

The event featured three guests: 

Gabriel Shipton, Julian Assange’s half-brother. Gabriel is a Melbourne-based film producer. When he isn’t making movies, he campaigns for the freedom of his half-brother Julian Assange.

Stella Morris is Julian Assange’s partner, mother of two of his children, and an attorney with his legal team. 

Chip Gibbons is the policy director and legislative counsel for Defending Rights & Dissent, an organization founded by victims of the House Un-American Activities Committee that works to protect the right to engage in political expression. In this capacity, he has advised both state and federal lawmakers on the First Amendment.

Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, is incarcerated in Britain’s Belmarsh Prison, where he is fighting US extradition on espionage charges related to his involvement with whistleblower Chelsea Manning and the publication of the Baghdad airstrike of 2007 and Iraq War Logs, among other documents.

Daniel Hale is a heroic former intelligence analyst who pled guilty to informing the public about the drone warfare program. He faces sentencing on July 31st for violations of the Espionage Act. Meanwhile, NO ONE in the US government who authorized the killing of civilians has ever been held accountable.

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Featured Past Events

Global Day of Action for Julian Assange: April 11

Assange supporters Candles4Assange have put together an incredibly helpful list of actions planned for Julian Assange on April 11th around the world, to mark 2 years of his unjust imprisonment. The full Twitter thread is here but we’ve also listed each event by city below. 

Los Angeles

12 noon

CBS building -> Hollywood Blvd -> CNN building

New York City

11am 

UK Consulate (2nd/47th Streets)

See NYC Free Assange for more info/contact

Washington DC

April 10th:

12 noon 

Ecuadorian Embassy (2535 15th St. NW) -> British Embassy

April 11th

12 noon

Department of Justice (950 Pennsylvania Ave)

See Action4Assange for more

Denver

1pm

Speer Blvd & Lincoln St

See Denver Action to Free Assange

Raleigh

1pm

Capitol Building (1E Edenton Street)

Seattle

12 noon

City Hall Park 

See Seattle4Assange

London

11:30am: 3 Hans Crescent (Knightsbridge station)

1pm: Westminster Magistrates’ Court (Baker Street station)

3pm: HMP Belmarsh (Plumstead Station or No. 380 bus)

See bus tour, more info and how to write your MP here

See the Committee to Defend Julian Assange here

Wellington

12 noon

Cuba/Leftbank

7:30am motorway billboard, Hill St

Auckland

12 Noon

US Consulate (23 Customs St. East)

See FreeAssangeNewZealand

Mexico City

12 noon 

Ecuadorian Embassy (Tennyson 217 Polanco)

See AssangeLibre

Toronto

12 noon

US Consulate (360 University Ave)

Frankfurt

1pm

Silent march, Weseler Werft 

See FreeAssangeFrankfurt

Düsseldorf

2-5pm

Bertha Von Suttner Platz (near US & UK consulate

See FreeAssangeEU

Glasgow

2pm 

George Square

Melbourne

6:30pm

Melbourne CBD

Truth Is Out: Street film 4 Freedom of Julian Assange

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Featured Past Events

#FreeAssangeTelethon!

Congressional candidate Jen Perelman and podcaster Katie Halper co-hosted #FreeAssangeTelethon, an all-day livestream event featuring renowned activists, journalists, comedians, and many others highlighting the persecution of Julian Assange and encouraging supporters across the U.S. to call their representatives to demand the DOJ drop the charges. Find a sample phone script for your call to your representative below!

  • 1:30 p.m. EDT: START
  • 1:45-2:00 p.m. EDT: Nathan Fuller of the Assange Defense Committee
  • 2:00-3:00 p.m. EDT: John Kiriakou, Medea Benjamin, and Kevin Gosztola
  • 3:00-4:00 p.m. EDT: Lee Camp, Rania Khalek, and Ron Placone
  • 4:00-5:00 p.m. EDT: Justin Jackson, Kate Willett, and Jordan Chariton
  • 5:00-6:00 p.m. EDT: Norman Solomon, Marjorie Cohn, and Shahid Buttar
  • 6:00-7:00 p.m. EDT: Chris Hedges & Margaret Kimberley

The telethon streamed on Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, and you can replay the full event here:

Throughout the broadcast, the hosts encouraged supporters to let their representatives know that they want the Biden Administration to drop the case against publisher Julian Assange.

Here’s a phone script you can use to call your Congressional representative, Senator, and the Department of Justice:

Categories
Commentary Featured

Sunshine Week Round-up: The new DOJ, Press Freedom, and Julian Assange

March 14-20 is Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of transparency and open government, featuring panel events exploring the public’s right to know, how to protect journalists, and how to improve access to essential information.

This year’s Sunshine Week is a particularly important opportunity to highlight threats to a free press, as the United States has seen a rise in journalist arrests, an erosion of local journalism, and an unprecedented indictment against a publisher.

As Merrick Garland has been confirmed as the new Attorney General, rights groups and journalists alike have been asking how the new Department of Justice will handle press freedom issues, particularly the prosecution of Julian Assange.

ACLU: “Merrick Garland Can Transform the Department of Justice. Will He?”

The free press faced unprecedented attacks under the Trump administration, from Trump calling the press the “enemy of the people” to federal officials targeting journalists at racial justice protests last year. The freedom of the press is fundamental to American democracy, and senators questioning Garland should ask if he will defend freedom of expression and freedom of the press. This includes asking whether he would support a federal journalists’ shield law and if he agrees with Attorney General Holder’s conclusion that whether or not one considers Julian Assange a “journalist,” there is no way to prosecute him for publishing classified information without opening the door to similar prosecutions of important investigative journalism. 

Jameel Jaffer, Knight First Amendment Institute: “The Biden Administration Should Drop the Assange Case”

Of Trump’s many attacks on press freedom, however, it’s his Justice Department’s indictment of Julian Assange that could have the most significant implications over the long term. As I explained here and here, the Justice Department’s indictment of Assange focuses principally on activity that national security journalists engage in “routinely and as a necessary part of their work”—cultivating sources, communicating with them confidentially, soliciting information from them, protecting their identities from disclosure, and publishing classified information. As a result, a successful prosecution of Assange would have far-reaching implications both for national security journalists and for the news organizations that publish their work. This isn’t an accident. It’s likely why the Trump administration filed the indictment, as Jack Goldsmith observed here.

President Joe Biden plainly does not share Trump’s attitude toward the press. But the Assange case will present the Biden administration with an early test. 

Knight First Amendment Institute: “A First Amendment Agenda for the New Administration” 

9. Disclaim the use of the Espionage Act for the prosecution of journalists, sources, and publishers.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations relied on the Espionage Act to prosecute government insiders accused of providing sensitive information to the press. The Trump administration continued this trend, charging six individuals for disclosing information on matters such as possible war crimes committed in Afghanistan, racially discriminatory investigative practices within the FBI, and Russian interference in the 2016 election. It also charged Wikileaks founder Julian Assange under the Act, in the first use of the Act against a publisher. The use of the Espionage Act in these cases raises profound First Amendment concerns and threatens journalism that is crucial to our democracy. The Biden administration should reserve the Espionage Act for cases of classic espionage, and it should affirmatively disavow the use of the Act for the prosecution of journalists, sources, and publishers.

Dan Froomkin, Salon: “Questions for Joe Biden: There’s still so much we don’t know” 

The state of the media

  • One of the country’s major media outlets, Fox News, traffics in outright disinformation and far-right propaganda, arguably even incitement. Most other media outlets, by contrast, respect facts, to a greater or lesser degree. Do you personally see a gulf between Fox and the others? Would you encourage the public to consider them differently? Should the White House?
  • Why is your administration still prosecuting Julian Assange? Did you approve the decision in February to continue seeking his extradition from the U.K.? 
  • Will you pledge not to use the Espionage Act of 1917 to pursue people who leak to journalists?
  • How concerned are you about the decline of local journalism, and what do you think should be done about it?

Lawfare: “Here’s Merrick Garland’s Orientation Memo for the Trump-Era Hangover on Press Freedom” 

…there are several cases where the Trump Justice Department ventured into undiscovered territory. The first category of such cases involves legal actions that are truly unprecedented, while the others are so wrapped up in President Trump’s attacks on the press that one wouldn’t expect to see them but for President Trump himself. 

Julian Assange

With respect to the first category, the clearest example is the Julian Assange spying prosecution. As noted above, recent administrations have expanded the use of federal spying laws, and especially the World War I-era Espionage Act, in attempts to criminalize the disclosure of national defense secrets to the press. Never before, however, has the Justice Department secured an indictment against an individual outside of government based on the mere act of publishing those secrets. But that is exactly what the Trump Justice Department succeeded in doing in the Assange case after the Obama team declined to indict. 

It very much remains to be seen what will happen with the Assange case. In early January 2021, a British court denied an extradition request from the Justice Department, citing a high risk that Assange might kill himself in U.S. custody, but otherwise endorsing the government’s legal theories in the case, including its “pure publication” claims. And there will undoubtedly be some pressure to pursue the case, given that the government has long taken the position, though never in the direct prosecution of a reporter, that the act of disclosing secrets to the public, even by the press, is indeed covered by the Espionage Act. The Justice Department has vowed to continue to pursue extradition and appealed the lower court’s denial in February. 

Whistleblowers Blog: “What Can New AG Merrick Garland Do For Whistleblowers?” 

Garland’s record on whistleblowing as a Federal judge is strong. In 2004 and 2008 he penned opinions that supported or expanded the scope of the False Claims Act, America’s premier whistleblower law. In 1979, Garland served on a DOJ panel and demonstrated a strong understanding of the False Claims Act and its importance as a whistleblower and anti-fraud law. He has also defended strong whistleblower protections against retaliation

In a recent editorial, Whistleblower Network News (WNN) called on Garland to advocate for essential changes to laws that concern whistleblowers, citing issues with the False Claims Act and other more recent laws. The editorial states that the False Claims Act can be further modernized to clarify the contentious “materiality” loophole that has let many companies off the hook. The piece also mentions the 2020 Anti-Money Laundering whistleblower law, which it claims requires serious revision to be effective. While fixing these laws will require cooperation of the legislature, Garland could single-handedly stop whistleblower prosecution under the Espionage Act, an antiquated law that both the Obama and Trump administrations used to stifle government whistleblowing. National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Reality Winner and many others still languish in federal prison as a result of what legal experts have said is a gross misuse of the Espionage Act.

 National Law Review: “Message to Judge Garland: Make DOJ the ‘Whistleblower’s Advocate’” 

In a historic speech entitled “The SEC as the Whistleblower’s Advocate,” the then-Chairman of the SEC, Mary Jo White explained the new relationship between the Commission and whistleblowers: “It is past time to stop wringing our hands about whistleblowers. They provide an invaluable public service, and they should be supported. And, we at the SEC increasingly see ourselves as the whistleblower’s advocate.” 

 Congress should demand that the new Attorney General follow this example. Judge Garland has the background and experience to transform the Justice Department’s whistleblower programs. Congress must ensure that this transformation is not delayed. It is time for the next Attorney General to make the Department of Justice the “Whistleblower’s Advocate.” 

Categories
Commentary Featured Press Release

How Will Merrick Garland’s Justice Department Handle the Assange Case?

The U.S. Senate is reportedly on the verge of confirming President Biden’s nominee for Attorney General, Merrick Garland.

The next Attorney General will have a major influence on many important matters, including the fate of the U.S. government’s case against Julian Assange.

Unlike many prominent officials from the Trump administration, Garland hasn’t made any public comments about Assange or the case. But it’s worth looking into Garland’s record and what he’s saying about his nomination for insight on how he’ll handle what has been described as the most important press freedom case in a generation

Garland’s First Amendment Record 

Garland spent 23 years as a federal appellate judge, seven of those as chief judge of the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Press freedom groups have delved into his judicial opinions for insights into how he might handle First Amendment issues as Attorney General.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press found some cause for optimism, noting that Garland “has taken strong stands on First Amendment issues” in a number of cases. Specifically, RCFP notes, Garland defended the media’s right to publish questionably obtained information, supported a stronger reporter’s privilege, and showed a commitment to government transparency in his decisions on FOIA cases.

What happened at Garland’s confirmation hearing?

Garland’s nomination passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last week on a 15-7 vote after a relatively routine process. Press freedom issues were not a major theme of Garland’s confirmation hearing, and the Assange case was not brought up at all, but a few things stood out as potentially relevant to how Garland would act as Attorney General.

Garland testified that he would not allow politics to influence decisions about prosecutions and would resist pressure from the White House. On its face, that’s a welcome change of tone. It was the Trump Justice Department that politicized the Assange case after the Obama DoJ had previously decided that prosecuting Assange would create a “New York Times problem.”

How might this be a cause for concern? We want the Attorney General to ignore political concerns when making prosecutorial decisions, right? Yes. But coming on the heels of the precedent-shattering Trump administration, there are a lot of injustices that need to be undone. Simply letting bad cases play out allows injustice to fester.

Garland’s message here isn’t completely clear. One could interpret Garland’s words as an assurance that he will be independent, and not as an indication that he will allow his prosecutors to unjustly continue bad cases. Or one could extend that logic in the other direction: Garland might give Justice Department attorneys significant leeway to continue their work. He specifically mentioned allowing “ongoing cases” to play out, and attempted to contrast himself with predecessor William Barr’s willingness to intervene in criminal cases.

The Bottom Line

In all likelihood, Garland will be confirmed without ever being directly pressed on the Assange case. So we are unlikely to have clarity on how he’ll handle the matter in the near future.

We should be cautiously optimistic about Garland’s pro-transparency and pro-First Amendment record. And his promise to be independent should count as a plus — if true, it means he would be more resistant to other voices in the administration who might have animosity toward Assange.

There’s reason to believe Garland will arrive at a similar conclusion as former Attorney General Eric Holder — that, as the ACLU notes, “there is no way to prosecute [Julian Assange] for publishing classified information without opening the door to similar prosecutions of important investigative journalism.”

But Garland’s “by-the-book” ethos suggests he will likely defer to staff prosecutors who have already invested significant time and resources into pursuing Assange — at least for the time being. Being a deliberative leader is usually a good thing, but dragging your feet when confronted with manifest injustice isn’t. In this case, Garland might ultimately arrive at the right conclusion, but take his time getting there if he is hesitant to overrule his prosecutors and bring a swift end to Assange’s case. 

In other words, Garland’s deference may trigger the old legal maxim: “justice delayed is justice denied.”

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Featured Press Release

Will the US appeal Assange’s extradition?

 

On January 4, UK district judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled against the U.S. government’s extradition request. Baraitser’s ruling was not a stunning victory for press freedom — she agreed with most of the U.S. government’s dangerous arguments. But she ruled against extradition because she determined that Assange would be at risk of suicide should he be sent to American prisons. The U.S. has until tomorrow, February 12, to appeal that decision.

But since that ruling, a new president has taken office in the U.S., and that means a new Department of Justice. There are rumblings that the new administration plans to appeal, but the Attorney General, who should break with the politicized nature of the previous administration and make a determination based on the facts, has yet to be confirmed.

President Biden nominated Merrick Garland for that job. Garland is a longtime federal judge, who has taken some solid positions on the First Amendment. Will he take a renewed look at the prosecution and drop the case?

Here’s why he ought to: The Assange case represents the gravest threat to press freedom in a generation. It’s not about Julian Assange as a person. It’s about whether the U.S. government will respect the role journalism plays in democratic life (as a check on powerful institutions), or whether they will take “direct aim at previously sacrosanct protections for the news media.” The indictment “characterizes as a felony many actions that journalists are not just permitted but required to take.”

That’s why the Obama-Biden administration chose not to pursue charges against Assange back in 2013. They called it “the New York Times problem.” They knew that if they went after Assange, it would be a press freedom nightmare.

This did not worry the anti-press folks in the Trump administration. After unsuccessfully trying to force Assange to reveal his sources, they aggressively pursued him — even sending Vice President Mike Pence to pressure the Ecuadorian government to withdraw Assange’s asylum.

President Biden’s Justice Department has an important choice to make. Will the new administration restore sanity and show deference to press freedom and the First Amendment, as President Obama did? Or will it continue President Trump’s dangerous war on journalism?

Stay tuned.

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Featured Press Release

Press freedom groups call on Biden DOJ to drop Assange charges

Two dozen major human rights and press freedom organizations are calling on the new Department of Justice to drop the charges against Julian Assange. The cosigners have written to Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson in a letter warning that “the proceedings against Mr. Assange jeopardize journalism that is crucial to democracy.”

The letter was organized by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and signed by leading rights groups including Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, and PEN America.

The cosigners write,

“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 letter comes just days before the United States’ deadline to appeal the ruling in Julian Assange’s extradition hearing. On January 4, British Judge Vanessa Baraitser blocked Assange’s extradition last month on medical grounds, and the U.S. announced its intent to appeal that decision. It has until February 12 to file its appeal.

The New York Times’ Charlie Savage writes, “The litigation deadline may force the new administration to confront a decision: whether to press on with the Trump-era approach to Mr. Assange, or to instead drop the matter.”

Then-President Trump’s Department of Justice requested Assange’s extradition and indicted him on unprecedented charges for the 2010 publication of the Iraq and Afghan war logs, the State Department cables, and Guantanamo Bay Detainee Assessment Briefs. The indictment threatens Assange with 175 years in prison, and it would mark the end of the First Amendment’s protection of the right to publish. 

But Trump’s outgoing prosecutor Zachary Terwilliger said he wasn’t sure if his successors in President Biden’s Department of Justice would keep up the prosecution. Biden’s nomination for Attorney General, Merrick Garland, is a longtime federal judge who has taken strong positions in favor of robust press freedom. Garland’s confirmation hearing has been delayed.

If the U.S. submits its appeal application in the UK this Friday, a High Court judge will review the submission, decide whether to grant the appeal, and then schedule oral arguments. The rights groups’ write,

“We urge you to drop the appeal of the decision by Judge Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court to reject the Trump administration’s extradition request. We also urge you to dismiss the underlying indictment.”

The Obama-Biden Justice Department looked into charging Assange back in 2013 for the same publications, but decided against doing so due to the dangers such a prosecution would pose to press freedom.

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Featured Press Release

Julian Assange’s Extradition Appeals Process

Almost immediately upon District Judge Vanessa Baraitster’s ruling that WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange would not be extradited from the United Kingdom to the United States on medical grounds, lawyers representing the U.S. announced their intent to appeal that decision. Two days later, Judge Baraitser denied Assange’s bail application, meaning he will remain in the freezing cold, COVID-infected maximum-security Belmarsh prison in London as he waits for the appeal process to unfold. That process could take weeks, months, or longer if the U.S. refuses to drop the case altogether. 

Will the U.S. drop the charges?

Despite the prosecution’s declaration of intent to appeal, it’s unclear how much appetite there is in the U.S. for continuing the prosecution. The ruling and notice of appeal came in the final days of the Trump administration, and the day after the verdict, the U.S.’s outgoing lead federal prosecutor Zachary Terwilliger told NPR that he wasn’t sure if the Biden administration would continue to fight for Assange’s extradition.

“It will be very interesting to see what happens with this case,” Terwilliger said. “There’ll be some decisions to be made. Some of this does come down to resources and where you’re going to focus your energies.”

President Biden was Vice President when the Obama administration explicitly decided not to prosecute Assange.

“The problem the department has always had in investigating Julian Assange is there is no way to prosecute him for publishing information without the same theory being applied to journalists,” said former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller. “And if you are not going to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information, which the department is not, then there is no way to prosecute Assange.”

Press freedom organizations and newsrooms agree that the prosecution of Assange puts all journalists at risk, by criminalizing basic newsgathering activity as well as the publication of truthful information in the public interest. “Julian Assange’s Indictment Aims at the Heart of the First Amendment,” writes the New York Times editorial board.

Appealing on Medical Grounds

The U.K.’s lawyers (the Crown Prosecution Service, or CPS) representing the U.S. confirmed to reporters that the United States officially filed its intent to appeal the ruling on Friday, January 15. They then have two weeks to file grounds for appeal, notifying the court of the types of arguments they intend to raise later. 

In her verdict, Judge Baraitser ruled that sending Assange to the U.S. would violate Section 91 of the U.K.’s 2003 Extradition Act, which bars extradition if the “physical or mental condition of the person is such that it would be unjust or oppressive to extradite him.”

Medical experts testified throughout the hearing that Assange has Asperger’s syndrome, that he has clinical depression, and that his specific condition and history combined with his prospective treatment in any U.S. prison all create a dangerously high risk of suicide.

Prison experts testified about the types of conditions Assange would likely face if he were extradited. The experts agreed that he would likely be held in solitary confinement, which the U.N. has deemed psychological torture; that he would get an extremely long prison sentence; and that he’d be held under Special Administrative Measures which render a prisoner effectively incommunicado, even further isolating him from his family, friends, and the rest of his support system. 

But even without these additional harsh measures Assange could expect, the mere ordering of his extradition from the U.K. would trigger this suicide risk. “I am as certain as a psychiatrist ever can be that, in the event of imminent extradition, Mr. Assange would indeed find a way to commit suicide,” testified Dr. Michael Kopelman. 

High Court

Once the U.S. files its grounds for appeal, Assange’s defense team has 10 days to respond to that filing. These appeal submissions are then sent to a single High Court judge, who must decide whether the grounds are reasonably arguable and therefore whether to grant permission to appeal. If the judge rules to allow the appeal, the case is then scheduled to be heard by the High Court, a panel of two judges.

If the High Court refuses to hear the appeal, which is rare, it will be the end of the road for the United States and Julian will be released. If the High Court allows the appeal, a date for an oral hearing will be set.

It is at the High Court stage where Courage Foundation beneficiary Lauri Love, a U.K. national accused of computer crimes in the U.S., successfully defeated an extradition request from the United States. In Love’s case, whose appeal Judge Baraitser referred to in her own ruling, the District Judge ruled he should be extradited, but on appeal, the High Court ruled that the United States could not guarantee adequate mental health care in its prison system and Love, who (like Julian) has Asperger’s syndrome, could not be protected from the high risk of suicide. 

Potential further appeals

If the case were successfully appealed beyond the High Court, it could theoretically (though not automatically) be sent up to the U.K.’s Supreme Court and even higher to the European Court of Human Rights. 

While these proceedings take place in the United Kingdom, Assange is only detained and at risk because of the U.S.’s prosecution, and the new Justice Department could simply drop the indictment and extradition request at any time.

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Featured Press Release

Rights groups react to Assange verdict

Press freedom, human rights, free speech, and digital privacy organizations have been sounding the alarm over the prosecution and attempted extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange ever since his arrest in April 2019. Now a district court judge in London has ruled against extraditing him from the United Kingdom to the United States purely on medical grounds, while accepting nearly all of the U.S.’s dangerous arguments that would criminalize basic journalistic activity — the very arguments these rights groups have warned about. Just two days later, the same judge denied bail for Assange, so he remains in British custody as the U.S. appeals the verdict.

Amnesty International

On the extradition ruling:

We welcome the fact that Julian Assange will not be sent to the USA, but this does not absolve the UK from having engaged in this politically-motivated process at the behest of the USA and putting media freedom and freedom of expression on trial.

On the subsequent denial of bail for Assange:

“Today’s decision to refuse Julian Assange’s bail application renders his ongoing detention ‘arbitrary’, and compounds the fact that he has endured punishing conditions in high security detention at Belmarsh prison for more than a year,” said Nils Muižnieks, Amnesty International’s Europe Director.

“Rather than finally going home with his loved ones and sleeping in his own bed for the first time in almost ten years, Julian Assange will be driven back to his solitary cell in a high security prison.”

Knight First Amendment Institute of Columbia

Jameel Jaffer, Executive Director:

“This is a victory for Assange, but it’s not an uncomplicated victory for press freedom. The court makes clear that it would have granted the U.S. extradition request if not for concerns about Assange’s mental health, and about the severe conditions in which the U.S. would likely imprison him. In other words, the court endorses the U.S. prosecution even as it rejects the U.S. extradition request. The result is that the U.S. indictment of Assange will continue to cast a dark shadow over investigative journalism. Of particular concern are the indictment’s counts that focus on pure publication—the counts that charge Assange with having violated the Espionage Act merely by publishing classified secrets. Those counts are an unprecedented attack on press freedom, one calculated to deter journalists and publishers from exercising rights that the First Amendment should be understood to protect.”

Freedom of the Press Foundation

Executive director Trevor Timm:

Today’s ruling is a huge sigh of relief for anyone who cares about press freedom. While the judge’s opinion contains many worrying assertions that disregard journalists’ rights, her rejection of the Trump administration’s extradition request means the US government likely won’t be able to obtain any precedent that would criminalize common newsgathering and publishing practices. And that is a very good thing.

American Civil Liberties Union

Ben Wizner, director of the speech, privacy and technology project:

“National security investigative journalism in the crosshairs. The job of an investigative journalist is to publish government secrets,” Ben Wizner, the director of the speech, privacy and technology project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said.

“I think what hasn’t gotten enough attention is this idea that the US secrecy laws can bind foreign journalists and publishers,” Wizner added. “That’s a very, very dangerous precedent. I hope that this court’s decision on the charges doesn’t become the decision that people look to in future cases.”

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Executive Director Cindy Cohn:

“We are relieved that District Judge Vanessa Baraitser made the right decision to reject extradition of Mr. Assange and, despite the U.S. government’s initial statement, we hope that the U.S. does not appeal that decision. The UK court decision means that Assange will not face charges in the United States, which could have set dangerous precedent in two ways. First, it could call into question many of the journalistic practices that writers at the New York Times, the Washington Post, Fox News, and other publications engage in every day to ensure that the American people stay informed about the operations of their government. Investigative journalism—including seeking, analyzing and publishing leaked government documents, especially those revealing abuses—has a vital role in holding the U.S. government to account. It is, and must remain, strongly protected by the First Amendment. Second, the prosecution, and the judge’s decision, embraces a theory of computer crime that is overly broad — essentially criminalizing a journalist for discussing and offering help with basic computer activities like use of rainbow tables and scripts based on wget, that are regularly used in computer security and elsewhere.

While we applaud this decision, it does not erase the many years Assange has been dogged by prosecution, detainment, and intimidation for his journalistic work. It also does not erase the government’s arguments that, as in so many other cases, attempts to cast a criminal pall over routine actions because they were done with a computer. We are still reviewing the judge’s opinion and expect to have additional thoughts once we’ve completed our analysis.”

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Featured Hearing Coverage

Judge denies bail for Julian Assange

Two days after blocking Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser has denied Assange’s bail application, keeping him in custody at HMP Belmarsh while the U.S. appeals the decision. 

Lawyers for Assange today argued to release Assange immediately, saying he would accept stringent conditions including house arrest. Defense lawyer Ed Fitzgerald said the “natural consequences” of the judge’s ruling on Monday, which ordered Assange’s discharge, “must be that he regains his liberty, at least conditionally.”

Fitzgerald argued that since October 2019, Assange has been detained solely on the basis of the U.S. extradition request. Now that the judge has ruled against extradition, there is no more reason to keep him in prison. Fitzgerald noted that outgoing U.S. prosecutor Zachary Terwilliger, reacting to the blocking of Assange’s extradition, told the press yesterday that he wasn’t even sure if the incoming Biden administration intends to continue its prosecution of Assange. 

“It will be very interesting to see what happens with this case,” Terwilliger said. “There’ll be some decisions to be made. Some of this does come down to resources and where you’re going to focus your energies.”

Fitzgerald also argued that Assange must be released for his own safety. Belmarsh has seen a spike in COVID19 cases in December, and a fellow inmate has recently committed suicide. 

Finally, Fitzgerald said Assange should be freed for “broader reasons of humanity,” to finally be allowed physical contact with his family—his partner and their two young children. 

Prosecutor Clair Dobbin, acting for the U.S., said that the denial of Assange’s extradition, based on mental health grounds — the judge ruled it would be unjust and oppressive” to extradite Assange due to the high risk of suicide — “hangs by a single thread.” Dobbin said that Assange’s seeking of asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London shows his determination to avoid U.S. extradition, and she noted WikiLeaks’ assistance of whistleblower Edward Snowden as he sought asylum after disclosing NSA documents to journalists.

Judge Baraitser ruled that because the U.S. has signaled its intent to appeal the case, “As far as Mr Assange is concerned, this case is not yet resolved.” She noted Assange has previously shown willingness to “abscond”, and said she finds the conditions at Belmarsh “bear no resemblance” to those she found he would endure if sent to the United States. The judge denied Assange’s bail application and proceedings concluded.

The United States now has 13 more days to formally submit its appeal of the extradition decision, and the U.K.’s High Court will decide whether to hear the case.

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Featured

Judge blocks extradition of Julian Assange, finding that abusive U.S. prison system wouldn’t protect him from suicide

An amazing day for Julian, but the judge’s ruling is extremely ominous for press freedom

LONDON — January 4, 2021

A British magistrate today ruled against the U.S. government’s request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for his reporting of leaks from U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

Judge Vanessa Baraitser began today’s hearing by spending more than half an hour rejecting Julian’s arguments and siding with the United States on virtually every aspect of the case. Then, in a shocking turn of events, Baraitser agreed with the defense team’s arguments regarding his mental health and the cruelty of the U.S. prison system. In particular, Baraitser ruled that it would be unjust to subject Julian to “Special Administrative Measures,” which would likely result in his suicide.

The ruling is a mixed blessing. WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said “It is a win for Julian Assange, but it is not necessarily a win for journalism.” Despite ultimately ruling against extradition, Baraitser’s other findings raise serious concerns about the future of press freedom. 

Assange’s partner, Stella Moris, spoke outside the courtroom following the ruling. Stella says that she has longed for Julian to return home, and while that day isn’t today, “that day will come soon.” She said that it is concerning that the U.S. has said it will appeal and that it hasn’t withdrawn the indictment. “We will never accept that journalism is a crime, in this country or any other,” she said. “Julian’s freedom is coupled to all our freedoms.”

Among Baraitser’s more ominous findings:

  • Assange’s conduct “went beyond that of a journalist”
  • The release of unredacted diplomatic cables was “indiscriminate”
  • There was insufficient evidence that the charges were “pressurized” by the Trump Administration and instead showed healthy internal debate.
  • The UK Extradition Act should take precedence over the U.S.-UK Extradition Treaty, and the former removed the clause barring extradition for political offenses.
  • The charges against Assange in the U.S. would be considered offenses in the UK.
  • Challenges of the U.S. prosecution’s “overbroadness” and “vagueness” should be made in a U.S. court, not adjudicated in the UK. The judge found no reason to think Assange wouldn’t have constitutional rights when tried in the U.S. — despite ample evidence that the U.S. intends to argue that the Assange lacks First Amendment rights. Baraitser ruled that: “This court trusts that a U.S. court will properly consider Mr Assange’s constitutional right to free speech.”

The judge’s ruling calls for Julian to be immediately “discharged.” The U.S. government immediately requested that Julian be kept in custody while they appeal; the defense requested his immediate release. After a recess, the court reconvened and scheduled a bail hearing for Wednesday, Jan. 6. Julian will remain at HMP Belmarsh until that time.

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Featured Hearing Coverage

Julian Assange Extradition hearing: District Court Ruling

January 4, 2021

Judge blocks the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States, ruling the abusive U.S. prison system could not protect him from suicide

In a ruling in which she accepted nearly every argument from U.S. government, Judge Vanessa Baraitser agreed with the defense’s claims that the U.S. prison conditions Assange would face if he were extradited, including solitary confinement, Special Administrative Measures, and extreme restrictions at ADX Florence, would drive Assange to suicide. She ruled it would therefore be unjust to extradite Assange to the U.S. and ordered his release. 

The U.S. will appeal the decision.

Judge Baraitser summarized her lengthy opinion and the arguments at issue, siding with the prosecution at virtually every step, upholding dangerous arguments that would undermine the First Amendment protections of a free press. The judge ruled:

  • The U.K. Extradition Act should take precedence over the U.S.-U.K. Extradition Treaty, and the former removed the clause barring extradition for political offenses
  • The charges against Assange in the U.S. would be considered offenses in the U.S.
  • Assange’s conduct “went beyond that of a journalist” in agreeing to help Chelsea Manning crack a password and in telling her that “curious eyes never run dry,” encouraging her to leak more files
  • The release of unredacted cables was “indiscriminate”
  • Defense arguments about Assange’s political opinions were “extraneous”
  • There was insufficient evidence that the charges were “pressurized” by the Trump Administration and instead showed healthy internal debate
  • Though the intelligence community has harshly criticized WikiLeaks, it doesn’t speak for the administration 
  • It isn’t the UK court’s place to comment on the case of UC Global spying on Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy, as it doesn’t have access to court documents in the case against UC Global in Spain
  • Assange’s prospective jury pool in the Eastern District of Virginia would come from a large county, can’t prove it would only be ex-national security and ex-military officials
  • Challenges of the U.S. prosecution’s “overbroadness” and “vagueness” should be made in a U.S. court, not adjudicated here, no reason to think Assange wouldn’t have constitutional rights when tried in the U.S. — “This court trusts that a US court will properly consider Mr Assange’s constitutional right to free speech”
  • On whether it would be oppressive to extradite: I accepted Prof Kopelman opinion that Mr Assange suffers from a recurrent depressive disorder, that Assange has suicidal ideation, and would be ‘single-minded’ in attempt to end his life
  • Potential conditions in a US prison: CIA views Assange as hostile, still a security risk; Assange likely to be sent to ADX Florence, would be held in serious isolation
  • The purpose of Special Administrative Measures is to minimize communications, and prisoners have extreme limitations. These conditions were considered by all experts to have deleterious impact on Assange’s mental health
  • Mr Assange has the intellect and determination to follow through with suicidal ideation
  • Therefore I rule it would be unjust to extradite Mr Assange. The US has the right to appeal.

The judge has ruled Assange should be discharged. The U.S. government asks for him to be kept in custody while they appeal; the defense requests his immediate release.

Defense lawyer Ed Fitzgerald said that the judgement itself, ruling Assange should be discharged, constitutes the strongest grounds for granting bail. However he said the defense would like to put all of its arguments forward, including the deleterious conditions in Belmarsh prison, so the defense needs time to put together the formal bail application. Court is adjourned until Wednesday 10am GMT for the full bail application. Assange will be physically produced then and will be kept in HMP Belmarsh until then.


  • See our full extradition hearing coverage here, with daily reports from the courtroom.
  • See a guide to testimony here, from experts on the history of journalism to doctors who examined Assange.
  • See an overview of the legal case here, summarizing the main arguments the judge considered.
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Featured

What we learned in Julian Assange’s extradition hearing

Experts debunked the U.S. government’s case, argument by argument. Here’s a recap ahead of the judge’s verdict on January 4th. 

The prosecution of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange would be a landmark test of the First Amendment right to publish if he were brought to trial in the United States, as press freedom groups, constitutional lawyers, and newsrooms across the board have sounded the alarm about the ways in which the U.S. indictment intends to silence investigative journalism around the world. 

But Assange would first have to be extradited from the United Kingdom, where he has been imprisoned in HMP Belmarsh for over a year and a half. At Assange’s extradition hearing in London, comprising one week of oral arguments in February and four weeks of witness testimony in September, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser heard debate over the U.S.-U.K. Extradition Treaty’s ban on extraditing for ‘political offenses,’ the unprecedented nature and scope of the U.S. prosecution, and the threat sending Assange to a Supermax prison in the U.S. would pose to his health and even his life. 

Judge Baraitser will issue her ruling on January 4th, and she is expected not only to approve or deny Assange’s extradition, but rather will lay out the ways in which she agrees or not with the government and defense’s many arguments. Here is what the government argued in court and what defense experts said on the stand. 

Journalists & Source Protection  

  • U.S. government said: Julian Assange is not a journalist
  • Experts said: Assange engaged in basic journalistic activity

That Julian Assange is a journalist should not be in dispute. Assange has earned dozens of journalism awards, from Amnesty International’s New Media Award in 2009 to the 2011 Walkey Award, the Australian equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. WikiLeaks has been referred to in court as a journalistic outlet, and mainstream media organizations around the world now use the very same anonymous submission system that WikiLeaks pioneered. But there’s no need to wade into this semantic dispute in the first place — laws and amendments protect or criminalize types of actions, not types of people. A press pass doesn’t give you more or fewer freedoms: the First Amendment protects journalistic activity, not journalists, and what WikiLeaks has done in soliciting, redacting, contextualizing, and publishing the Iraq & Afghan War Logs, the State Department cables and the GTMO Detainee Assessment Briefs is pure journalistic activity. 

Fellow journalists and press freedom experts alike explained this distinction. U. of Maryland Professor of Journalism Mark Feldstein called WikiLeaks’ actions “standard journalistic behavior.” Furthermore, Jameel Jaffer, director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia, testified:

“The indictment [of Julian Assange] focuses almost entirely on the kinds of activities that national security journalists engage in routinely and as a necessary part of their work-cultivating sources, communicating with them confidentially, soliciting information from them, protecting their identities from disclosure, and publishing classified information. The indictment’s implicit but unmistakable claim is that activities integral to national security journalism are unprotected by the U.S. Constitution and even criminal.”

As Trevor Timm, founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, put it in court, “In the US, the First Amendment protects everyone. Whether you consider Assange a journalist doesn’t matter, he was engaging in journalistic activity.”

This journalistic activity is not limited to publishing the documents. The Assange indictment also attempts to make criminal every step in the reporting process, from journalist-source communications to possessing the files to finally making them public. In addition to the 17 charges under the Espionage Act, the 18th charge is under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, attempting to reframe normal reporter-source interactions as something nefarious and to paint Assange as a mastermind directing computer intrusions when he allegedly chatted online with whistleblower Chelsea Manning. 

Computer forensic expert Patrick Eller testified that he found several important inaccuracies and technological misunderstandings in the government’s assessment of the Manning conversations and concluded that what the government alleges — an attempted password crack — wasn’t even technically possible and that if it were, it wouldn’t be for the purposes they allege. More fundamentally, he testified, the government couldn’t even prove that it was Assange himself that Manning was speaking to. 

Even if the accusation held up, Trevor Timm explained, that this time of source communication is not only normal but essential for investigative journalism.  “Material journalists often write about and print do not magically land on their desks,” he said.  They talk to sources, they ask for clarification, and they ask for more information. “This is standard practice for journalists.”

Unredacted cables 

  • U.S. government said: Assange recklessly published names of informants
  • Experts said: WikiLeaks redacted more than even the US government, Assange warned the State Department about unredacted release and was ignored, and WikiLeaks wasn’t even the first to publish unredacted

This argument has been completely debunked. Three of the charges against Assange are for “pure publication,” which is a dangerous attempt to set a precedent that criminalizes the publication of truthful information in the public interest.  The government’s indictment ignores the painstaking redaction process that WikiLeaks engaged in starting in 2010. Veteran journalists who worked with WikiLeaks on the 2010 publications testified that Assange and WikiLeaks were ardent about redacting cables to protect innocents who might be named. John Goetz testified that he looked at a few specific files in the Iraq War Logs and compared them to the same documents that were later released by the US government itself, and he found that WikiLeaks’ redaction system — using a computer script to first redact every single name in the files and then working backward to inspect and unredact words that couldn’t be used to identify the individuals — actually redacted more than the U.S. government’s. Working on the State Department cables, Stefania Maurizi lauded WikiLeaks’ unprecedented security in protecting the files. 

The government’s indictment ignores all of this and dishonestly tries to criminalize WikiLeaks’ 2011 publication of certain unredacted cables. As several experts testified, the indictment’s timeline is extremely misleading, obscuring how those disclosures came to pass in an attempt to deceive the judge and to paint Assange as reckless. The individuals responsible for initially publishing the unredacted cables were never charged. John Young, founder of the US-based leak site Cryptome, testified that he published the State Department cables first, and that the US government has never tried to prosecute him or asked him to take them down. When Assange learned that the unredacted files were available on the internet, he and other WikiLeaks officials immediately called the State Department’s emergency line to warn them. That Cryptome and John Young were never charged reveals how this is a blatant case of selective prosecution — political payback instead of an honest application of the law.

Assange is an Australian citizen who published WikiLeaks files while in Europe, so make no mistake: the U.S. government is claiming global jurisdiction and the right to dictate what is and isn’t published about it beyond its borders. Furthermore, it’s arguing that the First Amendment no longer protects the publication of truthful information in the public interest. A successful prosecution would spell the end of any legal protections journalists have left. 

Politicized Prosecution

  • U.S. government said: This is the culmination of a decade-long investigation
  • Experts said: Obama explicitly declined to prosecute; Trump launched a war on the press 

The question of whether the prosecution of Julian Assange is “politicized” is no theoretical debate; this is an important legal distinction: the US-UK Extradition Treaty explicitly bans extradition for “political offenses.” In this case, both the publication and the prosecution should be viewed as political. Assange’s defense team explained, “Espionage” is a textbook political accusation, the allegation of a crime done to a particular nation-state for political reasons. Experts in Assange’s hearing testified that Assange is an anti-war libertarian, and he published evidence of war crimes and corruption for the purpose of exposing and ending those unjust practices. 

On the question of a politicized prosecution, the government has attempted to portray the Trump administration’s indictment as the natural conclusion of a years-long investigation into WikiLeaks. But as experts explained in court, President Obama’s Department of Justice looked closely at indicting WikiLeaks and explicitly decided not to indict, because they could find no meaningful difference between the actions of WikiLeaks and those of the New York Times. The Trump administration, by contrast, had no regard for these First Amendment concerns and decided to reopen the essentially closed investigation into Assange. Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said early in Trump’s tenure that arresting Assange was his personal “priority.” In April 2017, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo delivered an extremely aggressive speech against WikiLeaks, declaring, “we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.”

At Assange’s extradition hearing, Carey Shenkman, an American human rights attorney and constitutional historian who is writing a book on historical analyses of the Espionage Act, testified, “I’ve never thought we would see something like [this indictment],” adding that most legal scholars agree that this use of the Espionage Act is “truly extraordinary.” The way the charges are framed and the timing of the indictment, he said, “really point to a highly politicized prosecution.”

Verdict

On January 4th, 2021, Judge Vanessa Baraitser will issue her ruling on whether to approve Julian Assange’s extradition. To accept the government’s arguments, she will have to disregard weeks of expert testimony debunking the prosecution’s legal theories, and she’ll have to accept its misleading timeline of events. These experts in journalism, the history of the Espionage Act, and the politicized application of the law gave her ample reason to shut this extradition process down. 

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Commentary Featured

Election Hot Take: 5 Reasons Pardoning Assange Could Drastically Enhance Trump’s Legacy

Even though we are all still recovering from the election (and there are still some pending legal challenges to consider), we thought we’d take a few minutes to unpack an idea that many people have floated on social media and opinion columns.

Here’s one example, from Thomas Knapp, the director of the the Garrison Center, writing at Counterpunch:

Headline: America in Transition: Two Things Donald Trump Can Do to Burnish His Legacy

Trump has the power to pardon. He should use that power in unprecedented fashion, emptying the federal prisons of non-violent drug offenders and other assorted victims of a “justice” system gone haywire.

In particular, he should pardon (in alphabetical order) Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Ross Ulbricht.

Assange and Snowden have been charged, but not yet tried, with telling the American people the truth about their government’s crimes. Manning has been convicted for the same heroic acts. President Obama commuted her sentence, but it’s time to restore her rights and recognize her service to her country.

Knapp isn’t the only one floating the possibility of a pardon for Assange. So let’s break down why this might be a great idea for Assange, for Trump, and for America.

1. It Would Transform Trump into the Defender of American Values 

Presidents rarely get to define their own legacy, and are often victims of external circumstances. Trump would love for his legacy to be about economic growth and reworked trade deals, but that’s unlikely to be how history remembers him. He has his tax cuts, and his defenders will make claims about economic strength…that was ultimately derailed by the COVID pandemic.

But there’s the rub. You can’t summarize the Trump presidency without fixating on COVID. The next sentence would probably be something about the divisiveness of the cultural and political moment. Much of that is beyond Trump’s control, but tell that to Herbert Hoover and Lyndon Johnson. Those are the breaks.

If Trump wants to shake up the narrative on his presidency, he can use one of his most important powers to do so. Pardoning Assange, Snowden, Manning, or a combination of the three would drastically reshape Trump’s legacy. It would become impossible to spin a narrative about Trump and our political climate without noting his magnanimous gesture. The speech almost writes itself:

#Gamechanger.

 2. It preempts Joe Biden 

We can’t be sure what Joe Biden will do as president when it comes to Assange. Maybe he’s weighing a pardon himself. Maybe he’ll merely drop the extradition request. Maybe he’ll actually continue the prosecution. 

Whatever Biden’s hypothetical course of action, a Trump pardon takes the decision out of Biden’s hands and gets Trump all the credit. 

Biden has a lot of work cut out for him uniting the Democratic Party and its coalition. They won’t have Trump to kick around any more, and the Left will be keeping a close eye on Biden. Taking Assange (and others) out of play gives Biden one less move he can make to appease key parts of his base.

3. It makes things more difficult for the Biden administration.

Similar to our last point, sending a powerful message in support of press freedom and releasing Assange causes headaches for the incoming president. Remember: Assange, Manning, and Snowden are all charged with crimes committed during the Obama-Biden administration. Allowing these transparency advocates the freedom to speak truth to power is a great way to undermine those in power.

4. It strikes at the Deep State.

Whatever your thoughts on Trump, let’s get one thing out of the way: the Deep State is real. Maybe you’d rather not call it that, and prefer “the national security establishment,” the “military-industrial complex,” or just “the bureaucracy.” Regardless of the label, there are career bureaucrats who transcend political parties and seek to accumulate power. They hate people like Assange, who operate outside established institutions. And Trump (usually) hates them back. What do they say about “the enemy of my enemy?”

The more “establishment” types prefer the predictability of someone like Joe Biden over the likes of Trump, who they feel less capable of controlling. It’s one of the reasons (although not the only one) that many establishment Republicans and hawkish (neoconservative) figures were “Never Trumpers,” “Lincoln Project” supporters, or even supported Joe Biden. Trump can tell them off by pardoning Assange and others.

5. It’s just the right thing to do.

Call it “saving the best for last.” Or chalk it up to cynicism about politics. But we can’t write a list like this without pointing out that the persecution of journalists and whistleblowers is simply wrong, and any action that pushes back against that persecution is a positive move.

Assange is not a U.S. citizen. He is being literally charged with “Espionage” for activities undertaken while he was in Europe. And even if you object to him being characterized as a “journalist,” the activities he is being charged over are textbook journalistic activities: newsgathering, working with sources, and publishing. Assange might not have operated like an old-school journalist, but that’s because he’s part of the evolution of journalism that is more open-source and accessible. Countless journalists, scholars, human rights organizations, and legal groups have all condemned the prosecution of Assange because it strikes at the heart of the free press and would make reporters all over the world subject to government persecution simply for doing their jobs: trying to tell the public the truth about things they have a right to know.

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Guide to Testimony in Julian Assange’s Extradition Hearing

Click on each topic for links to key testimony and further reading

Assange Indictment Poses Unprecedented Threat to Journalism

What expert witnesses said

Fellow journalists, academics, and professors testified that the Espionage Act charges against Julian Assange are unprecedented and would mark the end of First Amendment protections on journalism everywhere. Assange is charged with obtaining, receiving, and publishing government documents, activity that investigative journalists engage in every day.

Why it matters

To extradite someone from the U.S. to the U.K., the prosecution must prove “dual criminality,” that the crime alleged in the United States would also be an offense in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, Article 4 of the U.S.-U.K. Extradition Treaty says, “Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense.”


The Importance of WikiLeaks’ Releases

What experts said

Lawyers, journalists, academics, and activists testified about the enormous importance of WikiLeaks’ 2010-11 publications. They explained how the Iraq and Afghan War Logs documented previously uncounted civilian casualties, war crimes and the true nature of modern warfare, how the State Department cables exposed backroom corruption and the U.S.’s global influence, and how the Guantanamo Bay files revealed the deceitful justifications used to keep prisoners in detention. These experts testified about using WikiLeaks’ releases in their own work, in crucial legal cases, and in informing the public about what their government was doing in secret.

Why this matters

The U.S. government is attempting to portray Julian Assange as a ‘hacker’ and as someone who wanted to harm the United States, rather than a journalist performing a public service. These experts debunk that smear and show how Julian Assange’s work carries out his ideals, using transparency to achieve justice.


WikiLeaks’ Redaction Process and the Unredacted Cables

What expert witnesses said

Journalists who worked with WikiLeaks on the Cablegate release testified about Assange’s redaction process, care to conceal names of those who might be at risk, and digital protection of the documents to prevent accidental release. Digital experts who reviewed online records testified that it was Guardian journalists Luke Harding and David Leigh’s publication of a password that ultimately led to the unredacted publication, that actually a different leak site published the unredacted cables first and haven’t been prosecuted, and that Assange attempted to mitigate any damage that could result from the release.

Why it matters

The three publishing counts under the Espionage Act — perhaps the charges most worrying to fellow journalists as a conviction for publishing would be unprecedented — only charge Julian Assange with publishing the unredacted State Department cables in September 2011 (as opposed to the redacted cables in late 2010 and early 2011). The government alleges that Assange published recklessly, without regard for the informants and sources named in the documents.


On the Conspiracy to Commit Computer Intrusion

What is alleged

In the second superseding indictment, Count 2 is 18 U.S.C. § 371 Conspiracy to Commit Computer Intrusions. The government argues that US Army soldier Chelsea Manning chatted over Jabber with a user ‘Nathaniel Frank’, who the government alleges but hasn’t proven is Julian Assange, and asked for help cracking a “hash”, which is an encrypted portion of a password, she was attempting to gain increased access to government databases and to disguise her identity in doing so. It argues that Assange attempted to help Manning crack this password in order to obtain more classified documents to send to WikiLeaks.

What the expert witness said

Patrick Eller reviewed the indictments against Assange and the transcripts from Chelsea Manning’s court martial in 2013 to analyze the allegation that Assange and Manning engaged in a conspiracy to conceal Manning’s identity and steal more documents. Eller found several important inaccuracies and technological misunderstandings in the government’s indictment and found that what the government alleges isn’t technically possible and if it were, it wouldn’t have been for the purpose the government alleges.


Spying on Assange in the Embassy

What witnesses said

Two anonymous former employees of Spanish surveillance company UC Global testified that the company’s director David Morales secured a contract with top Trump financier Sheldon Adelson to spy on Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, from 2017 until his eviction in April 2019, and fed the recordings to United States intelligence. The whistleblowers said Morales was particularly zealous about recording Assange’s conversations with his lawyers, and even discussed kidnapping or poisoning him.

Why it matters

The Nixon Administration’s case against Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg was dropped when the defense discovered that government officials had broken into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist and the FBI had intercepted some of his phone calls. James Goodale, the lawyer who defended the New York Times’ right to publish the Pentagon Papers, wrote, “For similar reasons, the case against Assange should be dismissed, if it reaches the U.S. courts.” The testimony about Republican Dana Rohrabacher’s visit is also relevant for the case that this prosecution is heavily politicized.


The Trump Administration’s Politicized Prosecution of Julian Assange

What expert witnesses said

The prosecution of Julian Assange is political in nature because: Trump prosecuted after the Obama administration explicitly decided not to, the Trump admin is uniquely aggressive against journalism, the prosecution is essentially revenge for WikiLeaks embarrassing and exposing the U.S. government, Espionage is a classic “political offense”, and a conviction on these charges would set a dangerous new precedent.

Why it matters

Article 4 of the U.S.-U.K. Extradition Treaty says, “Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense.”


Medical Testimony & U.S. Prison Conditions

What expert witnesses said

Psychiatrists and doctors who have interviewed, visited, and treated Julian Assange testify that he has Asperger’s syndrome, clinical depression, and is at a high risk of suicide in the event of extradition. U.S. lawyers, prison experts and a former warden testified that if sent to the United States, Assange would be held in solitary confinement under communication-gagging Special Administrative Measures, would get an extremely long prison sentence, and would likely be held post-trial in the highest-security prison in the country, ADX Florence in Colorado.

Why it matters

Section 91 of the United Kingdom’s 2003 Extradition Act prohibits extradition if “the physical or mental condition of the person is such that it would be unjust or oppressive to extradite him.” Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights says that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”


Daily Reports

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Featured Video Series

Video Series: Assange’s Extradition Hearing

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This playlist compiles all of our video coverage of Julian Assange’s resumed extradition hearing in September 2020, featuring commentary outside the courtroom in London summarizing legal developments. See our live blog for daily recaps and a guide to testimony throughout the proceedings.

Week 1 Summary

Week 2 Summary

Week 3 Summary

Week 4 Summary