New Assange charges pose a threat to press freedom
MEAA has renewed calls for the Australian and United Kingdom governments to oppose moves to extradite WikiLeaks founder and publisher to the United States to face trial on 18 espionage charges.
The charges “contain a real threat to press freedom for journalists and media outlets around the world,” MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy and Media section federal president Marcus Strom say in a letter to Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
On May 23, Assange was indicted by the US Justice Department with 17 new charges for his role in receiving and publishing classified defence documents both on the WikiLeaks website and in collaboration with major publishers including The New York Times, and The Guardian.
The new charges, under the Espionage Act, go far beyond an initial single charge made against Assange in April that accused him of conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in a conspiracy to crack a Defence Department computer password.
If Assange, who is currently in jail in the United Kingdom, is extradited to the US and found guilty, he faces up to 170 years in jail.
Read below an edited version of the letter sent to Foreign Minister Marise Payne and copied to the UK High Commissioner to Australia, Vicki Treadell:
Further to our letter of April 12 2019, we write again to convey our strong concern about the possible extradition of Julian Assange to the United States and urge the Australian and UK governments to oppose extradition to that country.
Assange is an Australian citizen and is WikiLeaks’ founder and publisher. He has been a member of MEAA Media – the union and professional association for Australian media workers – since 2007.
The US Department of Justice charges against Assange relating to the alleged violation of the Espionage Act contain a real threat to press freedom for journalists and media outlets around the world. Respected leaders of the journalism profession have condemned the US indictment:
• Alan Rusbridger, former editor of The Guardian says: “… the attempt to lock [Assange] up under the Espionage Act is a deeply troubling move that should serve as a wake-up call to all journalists.”
• The Washington Post’s executive editor Martin Baron, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, says: “The [Trump] administration has gone from denigrating journalists as ‘enemies of the people’ to now criminalising common practices in journalism that have long served the public interest.”
• Joe Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect journalists, says: “Equating the publication of classified information with espionage also strengthens the hand of repressive governments who routinely jail journalists for publishing information they wish to keep secret.”
• The International Federation of Journalists, representing more than 600,000 media professionals in more than 140 countries, says: “… this indictment would criminalise journalistic inquiry by setting a dangerous precedent that can be abused to prosecute journalists for their role in revealing information in the public interest. By following this logic, anyone who publishes information that the US government deems to be classified could be prosecuted for espionage.”
As we said in our previous letter, the extradition of Assange and prosecution by the United States for what are widely considered to be acts of journalism would set a disturbing global precedent for the suppression of press freedom.
We urge you as Foreign Minister to use all resources available to convince the UK Government to oppose the extradition of Assange to the United States in relation to his role as publisher of WikiLeaks and to publicly call on the US Government to refrain from this attack on global press freedom.