Free Speech And The Detention Of Julian Assange

Since April this year the Australian publisher of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, has been in Belmarsh high security prison in London.

At a recent meeting on the premises of the European Parliament in Brussels, MEPs, prominent public figures, and significant defenders of democratic rights condemned the US-led pursuit of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and called for his freedom.

They say the Assange case raises profound and urgent concerns over the freedoms of the press. 

He has been charged by US prosecutors with 17 counts under the US Espionage Act of 1917. The charges relate solely to the 2010 publication of US government documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and from the US Department of State.

The publication was undertaken by WikiLeaks along with some of the world’s most prestigious newspapers and was widely recognised as a watershed moment in investigative journalism, exposing information of high public interest including possible war crimes, government collusion with the private sector and diplomatic interference in other countries’ internal affairs. It is purely for these journalistic publications that Assange is now fighting extradition to the United States, where he will face up to 175 years in prison. 

Recently more than 60 doctors have written an open letter saying they fear Julian Assange’s health is so bad that the WikiLeaks founder could die inside a top-security British jail. Now parliamentarians from across the political groups have a keen interest in coming together to examine the case and its implications for civil society and the exercise of democratic freedoms in Europe. 

He has been charged by US prosecutors with 17 counts under the US Espionage Act of 1917. The charges relate solely to the 2010 publication of US government documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and from the US Department of State.

The Brussels meeting was sponsored by the European United Left–Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) parliamentary grouping, which is comprised of social democratic parties and self-styled left-wing organisations throughout the continent and in Britain. 
Some of its constituent parties have condemned the persecution of Assange and called for the European powers to take action against it.

The speakers from GUE/NGL stressed the sweeping implications of the US attempt to prosecute Assange for publishing activities carried out in Europe. They warned that it would create a precedent for the US to apply its domestic law to European citizens and to seek the extradition of journalists and activists who fall foul of the American government.

David Greene of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an international digital rights group, detailed the unprecedented character of the attempted US prosecution of Assange, which marks the first time that the Espionage Act has been used against a journalist and publisher in over 100 years.

Greene said: “What Julian has been charged with are very standard journalistic practices.” The US indictment placed emphasis on the fact that WikiLeaks had, in 2009, published a list of its “most wanted leaks” and that in an alleged chat with the courageous whistleblower Chelsea Manning, Assange had written that “curious eyes never run dry.” 

WSW.org             EU Left:       Image: Espen Moe

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