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Newspapers urge US to drop hunt for Assange

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In October, supporters of Assange formed a human chain around the UK parliament to demand his release./AFP
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Nov 29, 2022 - 07:54 AM

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM — Five of the Western world’s leading newspapers issued a joint call Monday for the United States to drop its prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The Australian publisher remains in custody in Britain pending a US extradition request to face trial for divulging US military secrets about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Publishing is not a crime,” argued the editors and publishers of The Guardian, Le Monde, The New York Times, El País and Der Spiegel in an open letter to the US government.

The letter marked the 12th anniversary of the newspapers collaborating with Assange to release excerpts from more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables that had been obtained by WikiLeaks.

A year later, Assange published unredacted excerpts of some of the cables. The five newspapers criticised him then for potentially endangering the lives of US intelligence sources.

“But we come together now to express our grave concerns about the continued prosecution of Julian Assange for obtaining and publishing classified materials,” the letter said.

It noted that when Barack Obama was president and Joe Biden his vice president, the US administration had held off on indicting Assange, as journalists involved could also have had to face prosecution.

That changed under Donald Trump, when the US justice department charged Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act, “which has never been used to prosecute a publisher or broadcaster”.

“This indictment sets a dangerous precedent, and threatens to undermine America’s (constitutional) first amendment and the freedom of the press,” the letter to the Biden administration argued.

“Obtaining and disclosing sensitive information when necessary in the public interest is a core part of the daily work of journalists,” it said.

“Twelve years after the publication of ‘Cablegate’, it is time for the US government to end its prosecution of Julian Assange for publishing secrets.”

Assange, 51, has been held in a high-security jail in London since 2019, after serving time for skipping bail in a previous case and spending years holed up in Ecuador’s embassy.

He is appealing against UK approval of his extradition to the United States. He could face decades in jail if found guilty.

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