Why is Julian being detained?

Julian is being detained in London due to an extradition request from the U.S. government.

Is Julian’s detention related to allegations in Sweden? Why was he arrested in 2019?

No. There is no active investigation into Julian in Sweden, and Swedish authorities are no longer seeking to extradite Julian. The Swedish investigation into Julian was closed in 2019.

However, allegations made against Julian played an indirect role in Julian’s current situation. In 2010, Swedish authorities began an investigation concerning allegations from two women who had engaged in consensual sexual activity with Julian but claimed that their encounters went beyond the scope of their consent. Julian cooperated with the investigation in Sweden and received permission to travel to leave the country. Swedish authorities later sought to extradite Julian to question him in the matter.

Julian continued to dispute the allegations in both the Swedish and U.K. justice systems, but was unwilling to be extradited to Sweden due to fears he would then be extradited to the U.S. Those fears turned out to be justified — in 2018, a U.S. prosecutor accidentally revealed a secret indictment against Julian. 

After his preliminary efforts to work within the U.K. justice system failed, Julian sought asylum from the Ecuadorian government. In doing so, he violated bail conditions in the U.K. He was ultimately arrested for those bail violations in 2019 and sentenced to 50 weeks imprisonment. He remains detained by U.K. authorities due to the U.S. extradition request.

Why is the U.S. trying to extradite Julian?

U.S. authorities allege that Julian’s actions in publishing the material leaked by Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning violated U.S. law. 

 

The most serious of these charges relate to the Espionage Act of 1917. These charges carry a maximum penalty of 170 years in prison. 

The Espionage Act makes it a crime to access or transmit certain classified information without authorization, but it has previously only been applied to government employees. Because the First Amendment protects the freedom of the press, journalists who seek to share information with the public have not been targeted under the Espionage Act. As Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter Charlie Savage wrote in covering the indictment, Julian is being prosecuted for the same behavior that Times reporters and other journalists engage in every day. In fact, the Times accessed “precisely the same archives of documents” Julian is being charged with accessing — and even published many of them. For this reason, journalists, media scholars, legal experts, and transparency advocates have expressed outrage at Julian’s indictment.

How can I follow Julian’s extradition hearing?

We will be posting a link to our coverage of the hearing on our main page!

Why did Julian go to the Ecuadorian embassy in London?

Julian sought protection from Ecuador out of concern he would be extradited to the U.S.

 

In 2010, just weeks after WikiLeaks published classified material about U.S. military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, two women in Sweden alleged they had engaged in consensual sexual activity with Julian but that their encounters went beyond the scope of their consent. Swedish authorities sought to extradite Julian to question him in the matter.

 

Julian disputed the allegations and cooperated with investigators, but was unwilling to be extradited to Sweden due to fears he would then be extradited to the U.S. Those fears turned out to be justified — in 2018, a U.S. prosecutor accidentally revealed a secret indictment against Julian. 

 

After trying to dispute the Swedish allegations within the U.K. justice system for almost two years, Julian sought asylum from the Ecuadorian government.

What did the Ecuadorian government do to help Julian? Why did they help him?

In appreciation for Julian’s journalistic work and out of concern that he would be targeted by the U.S. government, the Ecuadorian government under President Rafael Correa provided Julian with asylum and protection from 2012-2019. During this time, Julian lived in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. In 2018, Julian was granted Ecuadorian citizenship.

Why did Julian leave the Embassy?

The new Ecuadorian government under President Lenin Moreno, seeking closer ties with the U.S., gradually increased restrictions on Julian’s journalistic activities. The Ecuadorian government ultimately caved to U.K. and U.S. pressure, allowing London police to enter the Ecuadorian embassy in London to arrest Julian.

Is what WikiLeaks does journalism?

Yes.

 

The core of journalism has nothing to do with a person’s training, employer, title, salary, or specific media affiliation. The core of journalism is the activity of gathering information and releasing it to the public. WikiLeaks’ purpose is to “bring important news and information to the public.” What sets WikiLeaks apart from some more traditional journalistic outlets is its focus on publishing “original source material. . .so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth.” While posting original documents online may seem a bit different from printing an excerpt from a speech in a newspaper, both styles are simply different ways to share information with the world.

 

When critics claim that WikiLeaks is not a journalistic outlet or that Julian Assange is not a journalist, they ignore the real issue. They focus on a specific, narrow interpretation of professional journalism instead of the purpose of journalism.

Perhaps more importantly, they overlook the fact that important legal protections — like the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — apply to more than just traditional journalists working for established companies. The First Amendment protects the press: every person’s freedom to publicly express their views and share information and opinion with the world.

What is the relationship between WikiLeaks and traditional journalists?

While there are some key differences in how WikiLeaks works and how traditional journalists function, they really just pursue different ways to share information with the public. In fact, traditional journalists often work with WikiLeaks to break important stories based on leaked information or report on documents released by WikiLeaks.

Did WikiLeaks hack the Democratic National Committee (DNC)?

No. 

The information released by WikiLeaks was provided by a third party to a number of sources, including DCLeaks, WikiLeaks, and mainstream media outlets.

What was the source of the DNC files?

It has long been Julian Assange’s policy not to reveal information about sources. Initially, Julian stuck to that policy and refused to comment on questions about the source of the DNC leaks. However, Julian did clarify that, to the best of his knowledge, the source was not the Russian government or any state actor.

Were WikiLeaks’ stories intended to help Trump win the 2016 election?

No. WikiLeaks has no interest in assisting (or undermining) any political candidates or parties.

Why did WikiLeaks release Democratic files but not Republican files?

If WikiLeaks had appropriate Republican files to release, it would have released them. WikiLeaks’ standard for publishing information involves its accuracy, newsworthiness, and whether releasing it is in the public interest.

 

Refraining from publishing information because it makes someone (a corporation, politician, political party, or even a nation) look bad is not what journalism is about. It creates a dangerous double standard, because journalists publish information from public figures with self-serving motivations every day. Whether a politician’s speech is being quoted or a powerful source is revealing inside information, journalists are constantly manipulated into sharing information that makes people look good. Withholding information that embarrasses public figures simply because the source may have self-serving motivations or because the information only embarrasses one side of the debate would be hypocritical. In fact, refraining from releasing critical information (or delaying a release until after an election) would, itself, be an act of bias that favors one party over the public’s right to know.

There is little controversy in journalistic circles surrounding WikiLeaks releasing the DNC emails. Even New York Times editor Dean Baquet, in an interview with the BBC, emphatically stated that he would have published the DNC emails if his paper had obtained them.

Was anyone on Trump’s team involved in the DNC leak?

No. While it is impossible to know for certain who was responsible for obtaining the DNC materials and passing them onto journalists, there is no evidence that anyone affiliated with any 2016 political campaign was involved.

I heard that WikiLeaks worked with the Russians to influence the 2016 U.S. elections. Is this true?

No. WikiLeaks has never had a relationship with the Russian government. While Julian typically does not comment on WikiLeaks’ sources, he has made it clear that the source of the DNC leaks was not Russian and was not a state party.

 

Some commentators seeking to portray a link between WikiLeaks and the Russian government have made an important, but misleading, point. They speculate that Russian-sponsored individuals may have played some role in hacking the DNC or disseminating the materials, and that they may have passed information to an intermediary who then passed that information onto WikiLeaks and other journalists. While this scenario is possible, it raises some additional issues. 

 

  • The WikiLeaks submission system is designed to protect the identity of sources, making it difficult to determine the identity of sources — let alone their motivations.
  • Even if the identity and motivations of a source could be determined, those elements are outweighed by core journalistic questions: is the information accurate, newsworthy, and is sharing it in the public interest? Withholding information from the public simply because of speculation over a source’s agenda violates the journalistic principles of WikiLeaks — and those of most journalists.
  • Most traditional journalists would have published under these circumstances. Some did. In fact, WikiLeaks was not the initial publisher of the materials obtained from the DNC. Many leading journalists have gone on record saying that they would have published these materials if they had been given them.

What is Julian Assange’s relationship with the Russian government?

Julian has no ties to the Russian government.

 

Some media reports have sought to portray a link between Julian and the Russian government by noting that a handful of Russian journalists were among the hundreds of people to visit Julian during his time in the Ecuadorian embassy. During this time, Julian’s visitors included people of all political persuasions — even Russian dissidents who oppose the Kremlin. 

 

Some have also sought to portray a link between Julian and the Russian government by speculating that the Russian government may have contemplated offering Julian assistance in avoiding extradition to the United States. Media reports on this topic are vague. Even those outlets alleging that a plan was discussed call the details “sketchy,” note that it was quickly abandoned, and report that some discussion took place amongst government officials — and not Julian or his team. Reports also make it clear that Julian rejected any plans to help him escape the embassy, as those would send a message that the U.S. had won.

 

A senior Ecuadorian diplomat has gone on record stating his belief that the new Ecuadorian government was behind the claims of a link between Julian and Russia, and that those claims were part of a broader effort to distance themselves from Julian and “lower the political cost” of Ecuador surrendering to U.S. and U.K. pressure.

Has WikiLeaks ever released material critical of the Russian government?

Yes. WikiLeaks publishes material from whatever sources are available, as long as the information is accurate, newsworthy, and its release is in the public interest.

 

WikiLeaks has published over 600,000 files related to Russia and nearly 80,000 files mentioning Vladimir Putin. One of WikiLeaks’ most significant disclosures was Spy Files Russia, a collection released in 2017 which included documents on surveillance contractors in Russia and on domestic spying operations. 

 

In 2012, WikiLeaks also published over 2 million documents from Syria, a close Russian ally. Many of these documents concerned Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. That data set derives from 680 Syria-connected entities and includes 68,000 emails in Russian.

Is there an active Swedish investigation into Julian?

No. Swedish authorities dropped their investigation in 2019.

What were the accusations against Julian? Why were investigations into Julian dropped?

A few weeks after WikiLeaks published the Afghan War Logs, and just two days after Julian applied for a work and residence permit, two women in Sweden filed complaints against Julian. These complaints involved sexual encounters that all parties agreed were consensual, but that the women suggested may have exceeded the scope of their consent. Swedish authorities quickly ruled out the most serious possible charges, but investigations continued.

 

The investigation was dropped and reopened two separate times. In 2013, Sweden attempted to withdraw its request for Julian to be extradited as part of its preliminary investigation, but officials with the U.K.’s Crown Prosecution Service intervened and dissuaded them from doing so. In 2019, with Julian in British custody and with the U.S. seeking his extradition, Sweden again dropped its charges.

Was Julian trying to avoid facing accusations in Sweden?

No. Julian has consistently maintained his innocence and repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to address the accusations. He cooperated with investigators in Sweden and asked to be interviewed there in 2010. Swedish prosecutors told him he was permitted to leave the country without being interviewed. Julian remained confident that he would be cleared of any wrongdoing.

 

What Julian feared was the possibility that Sweden would extradite him to the U.S. to face charges related to his exposure of U.S. government secrets — a fear that ultimately proved justified. A 2011 email from a Stratfor executive, which was publicly leaked in 2012, stated that the U.S. had a “sealed indictment on Assange.” In 2018, U.S. officials inadvertently disclosed an indictment against Julian in a legal filing. The unprecedented U.S. charges Julian faces carry a possible sentence of 175 years in prison.

How would journalism be affected if Julian Assange were extradited and tried in the U.S.?

The impact would be catastrophic. 

Reporters, legal scholars, and media critics have noted that the allegations against Julian involve the same kind of news-gathering and publishing behavior that mainstream journalists have practiced for centuries. The indictment against Julian interprets the Espionage Act in such an aggressive way that it could be applied to anyone who works with a source who has access to secret information and any act of publishing information the government feels puts people in danger. This opens the door to widespread persecution of journalists who reveal unflattering information about those in power.

Perhaps more importantly, this interpretation of the law jeopardizes the public’s access to the information they need to know to make informed decisions on the issues. Governments already have a significant advantage in shaping the debate — the “bully pulpit” lets them speak directly to the people and their power to classify information enables them to shape the debate. If revealing secrets is criminalized, our ability to uncover official misconduct and corruption is drastically weakened.

10 Years After Iraq War Logs, It’s Impunity for War Criminals, War on Whistleblowers

Brett Wilkins of Common Dreams covers the anniversary of the Iraq War Logs, noting the grisly contrast in accountability. Those responsible for war crimes, civilian casualties, and cover-ups have faced no consequences, while those who helped inform the public — notably whistleblower Chelsea Manning and publisher Julian Assange — have been subject to torture and relentless legal persecution.