An unjust pursuit: On U.S.’ relentless pursuit of Julian Assange

Julian Assange deserves freedom, not persecution for investigative journalism

Updated - June 21, 2022 10:27 am IST

Published - June 21, 2022 12:20 am IST

The United States’s relentless pursuit of Julian Assange received a fillip after the British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, gave the go-ahead to extradite him to the U.S. Wanted for criminal charges, which include violation of the country’s Espionage Act of 1917, Mr. Assange could face punishment ranging up to 175 years in prison if convicted in the U.S. The charges were framed under the Donald Trump administration after accusing him of collaborating with U.S. soldier Chelsea Manning who published classified documents and communications on, the website run by Mr. Assange. Mr. Assange is the first journalist to have been charged under the First World War era Act. Ironically, during the tenure of Mr. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama (U.S. President Joe Biden was the Vice-President then) the Justice Department had concluded that it would not pursue criminal charges against Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks as it would pose grave threats to the country’s press freedom laws, particularly the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution that guarantees freedom of expression. The cables and documents published by WikiLeaks reveal the severe abuse of international and humanitarian law, war excesses and crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan by the U.S. government among others, besides shining a light on the inner workings of the elite in democracies and autocracies across the world. The diplomatic cables in particular, initially released after careful redaction by media organisations, and other documents went on to form the bulwark of a large repertoire of investigative journalism. In a rational world, the perpetrators of the excesses revealed by WikiLeaks would have been pursued for justice while Mr. Assange would have been released from his harsh and extended stay in a British prison.

Yet, the dogged pursuit of Mr. Assange has been renewed by the Biden administration. The only guarantee that it has provided is that it will not hold him in a maximum security prison, which has strict confinement rules, and that if convicted, he could serve his sentence in his native Australia if he requested it. Its position runs counter to its stated aim of bringing the U.S. back to the forefront of world democracies that promote values enshrined in the West as pivotal, such as freedom of expression accorded to the press. Subjecting Mr. Assange to trial will be a blow against media freedom in the U.S. and will also criminalise investigative journalism, particularly one that is pointed at the inner workings of the deep state. Mr. Assange’s representatives have filed an appeal before the British High Court. With the present Labor party-led Australian government — Mr. Assange remains an Australian citizen — also expressing its displeasure at the continued pursuit, the onus is on the British judiciary to do right by him.

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