On 23 May, the US Justice Department indicted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for violating the country's Espionage Act, among other new charges, for his involvement in seeking and releasing classified materials from former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010. The new charges raised concerns regarding freedom of speech and expression.
"It is the end of national security journalism and the first amendment", WikiLeaks tweeted on 23 May.
WIKILEAKS RESPONDS TO ESPIONAGE ACT INDICTMENT AGAINST ASSANGE: UNPRECEDENTED ATTACK ON FREE PRESS pic.twitter.com/F0iUyr0R7F— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) 24 мая 2019 г.
"The use of the Espionage Act to throw a non-American and a proprietor of a media outlet into prison for life simply for telling the truth will have a chilling effect on all journalism worldwide that may reveal criminal acts powerful governments like the United States are involved in. Who will be safe? If they are coming after Julian, they could come after anyone brave enough to tell the truth", said Serkan Ozturk, an Australia-based independent investigative journalist, publisher and editor of True Crime News Weekly.
The journalist drew attention to the fact that Assange remains an Australian citizen and called on the "Australian government, media and public to stand up for the human rights of [the] WikiLeaks founder".
He emphasised that "WikiLeaks and Julian Assange have in the recent past been awarded Australia's highest media awards and it is the right and ethical thing to do to now stand by Assange and not fall for arguments that falsely claim WikiLeaks is not a media publisher and Julian is not a journalist".
Espionage Charges: 'An Assault on Journalism Itself'
For his part, British investigative journalist Gordon Dimmack opined that the new charges against Assange are nothing short of "an assault on journalism itself".
"If allowed to continue, the precedent it sets will essentially destroy the first amendment. No media outlet in the world could ever dare exposing any dirty secrets, corruption or wrongdoing, for fear their own lives would be at stake, wherever they may be in the world", the investigative journalist warned.
"It does not get more of a blatant attack on the press as that", the journalist added.
After being expelled from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on 11 April, Assange was charged with one count of conspiracy to breach the US government computer system, with Washington requesting his extradition to the US.
Stockholm Taking Steps for Assange's Extradition to Sweden
Meanwhile, on 20 May the Swedish prosecutor filed a request to the country's court for detaining the WikiLeaks founder "in absentia" following the re-opening of a rape case that was begun in 2010, but dropped in 2017. The prosecutor's latest move could facilitate Assange's extradition to Sweden.
"If Swedish prosecutors have a strong enough case to bring Julian to Sweden to face sexual abuse charges, there should be guarantees that he will not be further extradited to the United States", Serkan Ozturk insisted.
On 16 April, Heather Barr, acting co-director at the Women's Rights Division of Human Right Watch (HRW), suggested that in case the WikiLeaks founder was extradited to Sweden, there, as in the UK, "Assange would have the opportunity to argue that extradition to the US could violate his human rights".
New Indictments Come Amid Brexit Crisis
Commenting on the timing of the crackdown on Assange, who is currently serving a 50-week sentence for skipping bail in the UK, Dimmack pointed out that the WikiLeaks founder's indictment on espionage charges came amid the UK's nation-wide controversy over Brexit.
"Well, this all happened at exactly the same time as Theresa May resigning because Parliament and the House of Commons, it seems, can't get anything done", the investigative journalist said. "They are proving to the public, right now, that voting does not matter".
"I believe this time has been chosen specifically because our government is in such a shambles — like Julian Assange said when he was dragged out of the embassy kicking and screaming that day: 'The UK has no sovereignty! The UK must resist!' I, for one, think he's right. Again", he stressed.
Beyond the Issue of Press Freedom
The Trump administration's Espionage Act indictment against Julian Assange is an unprecedented threat to the First Amendment, according to author and free speech advocate Nozomi Hayase.
"This is the very thing that Thomas Jefferson feared, when he said that the American system of government would be degenerated into a form of "elective despotism". The US Justice Department's prosecution of Assange signals a reality of American despotism. This is no longer a case about Assange as an individual. This goes even beyond the issue of press freedom. This concerns civil liberty, our basic human rights and democracy," the expert said.
The free speech advocate reminded that back then, Jefferson warned citizens to guard themselves against corruption and tyranny before the concentrated power in the hands of one will seize them. Hayase went on to say that Assange echoed this warning from one of America's founding fathers, in his message: "I told you so", that he delivered through his lawyer at the time of his arrest.
"He is now being held in solitary confinement in what many have called the UK's Guantanamo Bay. After illegally terminating political asylum of WikiLeaks founder and having the UK police drag him out of the embassy, Ecuador confiscated Assange's belongings, including legal papers and medical records from his time living in the embassy. On May 20, just days before the US government brought espionage charges against him, Ecuadorian officials handed over Assange's entire legal defense to the US authorities. We need to keep our eyes wide-open, see this dire warning and respond. Time to act is now. We must stop the US extradition. First they came for Assange. We will be next. They are coming for all of us", the expert stated.
On 24 May, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she would resign on 7 June following her failure to rally support from the British Parliament for her versions of Britain's exit deal with the EU. The country is bracing for the outcome of the European Parliament vote which will be finished on 26 May.
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