Five major international media groups have called on the US government to drop charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over his massive leak of classified documents in 2010.
The editors and managing directors of the newspapers that published Assange’s original revelations contained in the WikiLeaks – The New York Times, The Guardian, El País, Le Monde and Der Spiegel – in a joint statement declared, “Collecting and disseminating sensitive information when it is necessary for the public interest constitutes an essential part of the daily work of journalists.
“If this work is criminalised, not only the quality of public debate but also our democracies will be considerably weakened.”
The 51-year-old Australian is being prosecuted in the United States after he began publishing more than 700,000 confidential documents on American military and diplomatic activities, in particular about operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, in 2010. He will face 175 years in US prison if extradited.
Assange was arrested in the UK in 2019 after seven years in confinement at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He is now being held at a high-security prison near London while his appeal against the British government’s decision to extradite him is being considered.
The five media outlets state, “Twelve years after the first publications”, “it is time for the United States government to drop its charges against Julian Assange”, “publishing is not a crime”.
They recalled how they had “deemed it necessary to publicly criticise his attitude in 2011 when unredacted versions of the diplomatic cables were made public, and some of us remain concerned about the accusation in the US lawsuit that he aided in the computer intrusion into a classified database.
“But we stand together today to express our great concern at the endless legal proceedings that Julian Assange is undergoing.”
Both Reporters Without Borders and the International Press Institute welcomed the development.
RSF’s Rebecca Vincent said, “Great to see this support from the 5 newspapers that partnered with @wikileaks on Cablegate. Assange’s extradition & prosecution would set a dangerous precedent that could apply to any journalist or publisher. It’s time to drop the charges & #FreeAssange!”
Great to see this support from the 5 newspapers that partnered with @wikileaks on Cablegate. Assange’s extradition & prosecution would set a dangerous precedent that could apply to any journalist or publisher. It’s time to drop the charges & #FreeAssange! https://t.co/kUTdsr3C2z
— Rebecca Vincent (@rebecca_vincent) November 28, 2022
The IPI, meanwhile, tweeted, “Five leading news outlets that worked with @wikileaks founder Julian Assange to publish diplomatic cable leaks have called for espionage charges against him to be dropped. IPI has repeatedly urged the same. This case threatens #pressfreedom.”
Five leading news outlets that worked with @wikileaks founder Julian Assange to publish diplomatic cable leaks have called for espionage charges against him to be dropped.
— IPI – The Global Network for Independent Media (@globalfreemedia) November 28, 2022
The media outlets point out that the new legal recourse, which was launched under the US Presidency of Donald Trump, “had never been used against journalists, media or broadcasters” since 1917 to fight against spies.
“Such an indictment creates a dangerous precedent” and “threatens the freedom to inform,” they warned.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also been lobbying US government officials to persuade them to drop the espionage charges filed against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Albanese said on Wednesday that he had raised the issue of the continued detention of Assange in meetings with US officials and was seeking to bring the matter to a close.
He said he would continue to advocate for Assange’s release, even though he disagreed with him on “a whole range of matters.”
“I have raised this personally with representatives of the United States government,” Albanese told the parliament. “My position is clear, and has been made clear to the US administration, that it is time that this matter be brought to a close.”
Assange’s critics say his journalism endangered US national security with the release of the classified documents in 2010. Supporters say he is a hero victimized for exposing US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The WikiLeaks and Malta
Malta also had its own section in the Cable Leaks, which US diplomatic cables with assessments of foreign leaders.
Possibly one of the most quoted of the WikiLeaks on Malta was a description of former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi complaining to a former US ambassador about the rather small talent pool within his parliamentary group from which to select his Cabinet of Ministers, and expressing his wish to rather select Cabinet members from the private sector and academia.
There were other colourful descriptions of some of the country’s current leaders and ministers, and scathing assessments of former leaders such as Joseph Muscat Alfred Sant and Dom Mintoff.
When Joseph Muscat was elected leader of the Labour Party, for example, the US Embassy expressed concerned about his “anti-US Navy ship visit rhetoric” but saw “some hope” in his openness on social issues like divorce.
WikiLeaks had also revealed how Iran had tried to invest billions of dollars into the Maltese financial system, a prospect the government had outright refused, and how the country had also attempted to access Malta’s Central Bank Euro payment system, a move which had left Maltese banking authorities in a quandary over how to just politely say ‘no thank you’.