International NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has launched a petition to stop the extradition of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to the United States where he could face up to 175 years in prison for revealing war crimes.
In the petition, which already gathered more than 18,000 votes, RSF said it was strongly opposed to the possible extradition of Assange, where he will face 18 charges – 17 of which fall under the Espionage Act for publishing and providing journalists with information that served the public interest. Assange’s extradition hearing will take place on Monday.
“This would set a dangerous precedent for all journalists who publish classified information that is of public interest,” RSF said.
Do you like Julian #Assange or not? This is not the question. Assange made key journalistic revelations possible and his now prosecuted for this. His extradition to the US would be a huge danger for journalism. This is the question. Sign the petition https://t.co/dJUVqFHHhl https://t.co/EeVW4IUCPv pic.twitter.com/EvgICwz1BD
— Christophe Deloire (@cdeloire) February 17, 2020
Assange, the publisher of Wikileaks, is at the Belmarsh high-security prison and has been charged for publishing the Afghanistan and Iraq war diaries and US embassy cables, important documents that many journalists around the world used.
“RSF urges the UK government to prioritise the principles of freedom of expression and the defence of journalism in its treatment of Assange and to act in accordance with UK law and the country’s international human rights obligations”.
The War Diaries provided evidence that the US Government misled the public about activities in Afghanistan and Iraq and committed war crimes.
“The publication of these documents by media outlets was clearly in the public interest, and not an act of espionage. Julian Assange’s contribution to journalism is undeniable,” RSF said.
Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for seven years, but, as a result of a change of government in Ecuador, he was released to UK authorities and arrested on 11 April 2019.
RSF also expressed their concern about Assange’s health following a visit to Belmarsh prison in May by UN special rapporteur Nils Melzer. Melzer had reported that Assange had been deliberately exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment.
“The detention regime currently imposed on Assange appears to be unnecessary, disproportionate, and discriminatory and to perpetuate his exposure to psychological torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” Melzer had said
Last week, more than 130 prominent German politicians, artists and journalists have joined international organisations in their call to release Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and signed a petition, saying that his detention was a “serious violation” of basic human rights.
“Every day, news organisations rely on and publish classified information to serve the public interest. If the legal persecution of Assange continues, investigative journalism and press freedom will be the victims,” RSF said.
The International Federation of Journalists also reiterated the concerns expressed in the “Speak Up for Assange” campaign, launched in December. “This case stands at the heart of the principle of free speech. If the US government can prosecute Assange for publishing classified documents, it may clear the way for governments to prosecute journalists anywhere, an alarming precedent for freedom of the press worldwide,” it had said.