Julian Assange Fact Sheet
Julian Assange, 48, is an Australian journalist who founded WikiLeaks in 2006. WikiLeaks has published a full-text searchable archive of more than 10 million documents from the world’s most powerful governments and corporations. WikiLeaks’ files have been cited in tens of thousands of news articles and academic papers. The United Kingdom's Supreme Court decided that WikiLeaks materials were admissible evidence, and WikiLeaks materials have been cited in European Court of Human Rights cases concerning extraordinary rendition and the International Court of Justice concerning the Chagos islands. Assange and WikiLeaks pioneered the encrypted dropbox method enabling whistleblowers to anonymously and securely leak sensitive information to journalists. The WikiLeaks model has been adopted by major media outlets around the world.
Currently imprisoned in London’s HMP Belmarsh, WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange is facing possible extradition to the United States, where he has been charged with 17 counts under the Espionage Act of 1917 for the publication of truthful material in the public interest. Assange is the first journalist in history the US has charged with Espionage for publishing. He also faces one count of conspiracy to commit computer crime based on his alleged reporter-source communications with whistleblower Chelsea Manning. This charge would criminalise basic journalistic activity, as the indictment details alleged attempts to help Manning protect her anonymity as a journalistic source.
The extradition hearing in relation to the United States has been scheduled for February 2020. If extradited, Assange faces 175 years in prison – an effective death penalty – in the United States.
Although the criminal investigation against Julian Assange proceeded in secret, it had been widely reported that a grand jury had been empaneled in the national security court in the Eastern District of Virginia since at least May 2010 and remained active for nine years. In the context of these reports, in August 2012, Ecuador granted Assange political asylum in the embassy of Ecuador, due to the real risk of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, lack of a fair trial, risk of death penalty and political prosecution. Upon his expulsion from the embassy in April 2019, a UK court sentenced Assange to the near-maximum penalty (50 weeks in prison) connected to the circumstances in which he sought political asylum.
Status of the Swedish “preliminary investigation”
In August 2010, a “preliminary investigation” into allegations of sexual misconduct was opened in Sweden. The preliminary investigation is now into its tenth year. Throughout, no charges have been laid against Assange and no decision has been made as to whether the matter should go to trial. This investigation has been closed and reopened three times without any new evidence, most recently after Assange's expulsion from the Ecuadorian Embassy.
A Freedom of Information Act request by Italian investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi revealed that since December 2010, UK authorities had discouraged Swedish investigators from questioning Assange in the UK. This intransigence led to a six-year deadlock in which the Swedish “preliminary investigation” did not progress at all. The Swedish prosecutor departed from the UK Crown Prosecution Service's advice only after Sweden's Court of Appeal finding that the prosecutor had failed in her duty to progress this case, compelling her to travel to London to question Assange in November 2016. The investigation was entirely closed six months later.
Another FOI request revealed that in 2013, Sweden informed the UK that it intended to drop the case. After UK CPS officials pressured Swedish prosecutors, they reversed their decision. The Guardian has reported that UK CPS officials deleted key emails exchanged with Sweden relating to Assange. In May 2019 the Swedish preliminary investigation was reopened. A Swedish district judge decided not to grant the prosecutor's request for Assange's extradition to Sweden in May. The preliminary investigation is currently open.
Assange’s Charges and Potential Extradition
The unprecedented charges against Assange have been condemned by virtually all human rights groups, press freedom organisations, and major news outlets, including the ACLU, EFF, Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders, New York Times, Washington Post, New Yorker, Guardian, Committee to Protect Journalists, and Amnesty International. US and EU politicians and other public figures around the world have also condemned the US prosecution against Assange.
The Washington Post Editor Marty Baron said, “With the new indictment of Julian Assange, the government is advancing a legal argument that places such important work in jeopardy and undermines the very purpose of the First Amendment.”
The New York Times said that Assange’s conviction would have “profound implications for press freedoms”, as it would threaten the basic journalistic activities that investigative reporters and publishers engage in every day.
The United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that Assange has been held in arbitrary detention and should be released and compensated immediately, and also considered the 50-week sentence. UN rapporteurs on privacy and on freedom of expression have spoken out against Assange’s treatment and potential US extradition.
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer said,
“My most urgent concern is that, in the United States, Mr. Assange would be exposed to a real risk of serious violations of his human rights, including his freedom of expression, his right to a fair trial and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
Grave Implications of Assange’s Extradition
The extradition by the Trump Administration of a publisher in Europe for the “crime” of publishing truthful information would set an incredibly dangerous precedent for the extra-territorial application of US state secrecy laws and interference in the right to publish and media freedom in Europe. The Trump Administration cannot be permitted to dictate what can and cannot be published beyond its borders.
An extradition would invite other states to follow suit, severely threatening the ability of journalists, publishers and human rights organisations to safely reveal information about serious international issues.
Amnesty International said,
“Amnesty International calls on the UK to refuse to extradite or send in any other manner Julian Assange to the USA where there is a very real risk that he could face human rights violations, including detention conditions that would violate the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment and an unfair trial followed by possible execution, due to his work with Wikileaks.”
Assange’s Journalism Recognitions
Julian Assange has been a card-holding member of the Australian journalists’ union MEAA for over a decade, and he holds a press card from the International Federation of Journalists.
Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have received dozens of awards by human rights, press freedom and journalistic organisations around the world for their contributions to international justice in the public record, including the Amnesty New Media Award, the Sam Adams Award for Integrity, the Sydney Peace Foundation Gold Medal, the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, and the Brazilian Press Association Human Rights Award, among many others.
So far this year, Julian Assange has won four journalism prizes: a Danny (in memory of the US investigative journalist Danny Shechter), the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism, the GUE/NGL Award for Journalists, Whistleblowers and Truthtellers at the European Parliament, and Compassion in Care’s Gavin MacFadyen Award.
WikiLeaks and Assange have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for eight consecutive years, since 2011.
Ecuadorian Embassy Asylum and Expulsion
Julian Assange was granted political asylum by the government of Ecuador in 2012 to protect him against the prospect of US prosecution for his journalistic activities. In April 2019, the Moreno government invited UK police into Ecuador's London embassy to arrest Assange, ‘suspended’ his Ecuadorian nationality and revoked his asylum, despite calls from the Inter-American Commission and UN Special Rapporteurs not to do so. The US charges against Assange were unsealed immediately upon his expulsion and arrest, proving Assange's grounds for seeking protection had been legitimate.
Assange is currently imprisoned in HMP Belmarsh, a high-security facility in southeast London. He will have served his UK sentence in early October 2019. In May 2019, Assange was transferred to the Belmarsh medical wing. There are serious ongoing concerns about the state of his health.
According to the investigation by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Julian Assange has been subjected to arbitrary deprivation of liberty continuously since his arrest on 7 December 2010.
A few months ago, I was able to visit my friend Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison.
Entering the maximum security prison was distressing,
but leaving was worse.
For publishing information, Julian faces the rest of his life inside a place like that.
I left that jail determined to fight to save his life.
I have donated $300,000 to his campaign and I am asking you to match it.
I ask you to join me, along with many others, to ensure that legal work and campaigning means we can stop him being extradited for publishing the truth. The money
will be used to set him free.
This is the first time in history that a non-US publisher has been charged under the Espionage Act of 1917. All he published was the truth.
So this extradition is not just an ordinary legal case. It is a test case, and if we lose it will set the precedent that no journalist is safe anywhere in the world.
Imagine if North Korea had requested the extradition of an English journalist writing things about them that they did not like. Or for Saudi Arabia to request the extradition of a US journalist. It will have a world-wide chilling effect. Winning this case will be a win for much more than Julian.
I have attached a briefing note and would happily arrange a meeting if you would prefer a discussion. I have also attached details about how to donate.
Please do not stand by. Instead, help us stand up.