Assange Extradition Denied

But Not Because of Press Freedom Threat

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Assange Extradition Denied—But Not Because of Press Freedom Threat

The new year started with a long-awaited verdict with real implications for press freedom in the United States and around the world. A British judge ruled Monday that Wikileaks founder and publisher Julian Assange will not be extradited to the U.S., where he faces charges of violating the Espionage Act as well as conspiracy to hack government computers.

However, the press freedom and human rights communities, concerned about threats to those seeking to publish government secrets, were pleased with the decision but disappointed with the rationale.

The judge said that Assange was at risk of suicide if placed in the U.S. prison system. While that’s certainly a valid concern, she affirmed that the American government was operating in “good faith” in its prosecution of Assange.

“We are immensely relieved that Julian Assange will not be extradited to the U.S.,” Rebecca Vincent, director of international campaigns for Reporters Without Borders, said in a statement. “At the same time, we are extremely disappointed that the court failed to take a stand for press freedom and journalistic protections, and we disagree with the judge’s assessment that the case was not politically motivated and was not centered on journalism and free speech. This decision leaves the door open for further similar prosecutions and will have a chilling effect on national security reporting around the world if the root issues are not addressed.”

The Freedom of the Press Foundation’s Trevor Timm tweeted that it’s “hard to call this a true victory for press freedom, given the judge’s disregard for journalists’ rights” but it’s a “huge sigh of relief.”

“If the U.S. can't prosecute Assange, it means there won't [be] precedent criminalizing newsgathering,” he added. “And that's a very good thing.”

Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute, tweeted that the decision would “cast a shadow over investigative journalism,” specifically that, “merely by publishing classified secrets,” Assange violated the Espionage Act.

The chorus of voices from the press freedom community was clear. No matter what you think of Assange or his organization, the implications for the First Amendment, should he have been extradited and charged, would be dire. And it’s not exactly over yet—the U.S. government plans to appeal in the next two weeks.

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