At a press conference today in Paris with Julian Assange’s international lawyers – Eric Dupond-Moretti, Antoine Vey, Baltasar Garzon, and with Assange’s father John Shipton, RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire firmly opposed Assange’s extradition to the United States, where he is facing the possibility of a 175-year prison sentence for passing information of a public interest nature to journalists.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) will be in London on Monday morning because the hearing at Belmarsh prison is of paramount importance for press freedom.
We believe that it’s not just an individual’s fate that will be at stake in the weeks to come. It’s also the very possibility of major journalistic revelations about state secrets.
Supporting Julian Assange is an overriding obligation for those who want to resist the arbitrary extension of secrecy’s domain.
A secrecy that is increasingly opposed to journalists who serve the public interest by investigating such vital subjects as governments’ behaviour.
The issue today
We know that people react in different ways to Julian Assange’s persona and that some of the positions he has taken have surprised even his friends.
That’s not the issue.
Deciding if Julian Assange is a hero or a saint is not the question. Whether we like or don’t like Julian Assange is not the question.
The question is: do we think it’s acceptable for a contribution to journalism to be treated as spying? That’s the question.
A historic contribution to journalism
Let’s say it clearly, Julian Assange made a historic contribution to journalism.
It was thanks to the organization he founded, WikiLeaks, that major revelations by some of the world’s most prominent media outlets were possible.
Let’s recall the list of WikiLeaks’ media partners: Le Monde, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, L’Espresso, Der Spiegel, El País, Libération, The Wall Street Journal, The Telegraph….
Let’s not forget that the “Collateral Murder” video revealed the truth about the deaths of 18 people, including a Reuters journalist and his assistant, who were killed by shots fired from a US helicopter in Baghdad on 12 July 2007.
What Assange did in exposing cases of torture and abduction was clearly not spying.
Accusing Assange of spying because of what he did is to expose the media and journalists to the terrible threat of future accusations of spying.
Political and judicial persecution
It’s no exaggeration to say that Assange has been subjected to political and judicial persecution. It forced him to seek refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy for seven years, and it’s why he is being kept in detention now.
In the United States, Assange is facing the possibility of being sentenced in all to 175 years in prison under the Espionage Act, a reactionary law designed for wartime
UN special rapporteur Nils Melzer has clearly shown that the conditions in which Assange is being held are tantamount to psychological torture and inhuman treatment.
Requests to the United Kingdom and United States
We ask the US judicial authorities and the Trump administration to terminate these Grand Jury proceedings, which look to the rest of the world like a game played with loaded dice
We ask them to drop these charges, which have brought shame on the country of the First Amendment.
Where is the First Amendment?
If Assange is tried under the Espionage Act, he will even be denied the possibility of demonstrating that the information he revealed served the public interest.
These proceedings violate the US Constitution.
The democratic example set by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin is in danger.
We ask the British courts not to acquiesce, we ask them to reject the request for Assange’s extradition.
Without legitimizing the British proceedings, we ask for Assange to be released pending a final decision by the judges so that he can receive appropriate medical care and prepare his defence properly.
Request for asylum in Europe
In July 2013, we jointly wrote an opinion piece with Assange. It defended Edward Snowden, who had just revealed the international data surveillance programme known as PRISM.
Snowden had fled to Hong Kong and we asked the European Union’s governments to offer him their warmest possible welcome, under any status whatsoever.
The European governments did not grant this request – out of respect for a country that had historically championed free speech, and no doubt out of fear as well. But I reiterate this request today for Assange himself.
RSF formally calls on European governments to grant Assange protection in the name of democracy and press freedom.
Petition against Assange’s extradition
Everyone can join in supporting this cause.
RSF has launched a petition against Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States that already has tens of thousands of signatures.
I also invite the public to participate in a rally in defence of whistleblowers and against the criminalization of journalism that RSF, other NGOs, and media outlets are jointly organizing in Paris this evening (Thursday, 20 February).