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Julian Assange’s Last Chance To Avoid Extradition

Prosecuting Assange gives a green light to countries around the world that it is possible to protect their government secrets by charging international reporters or editors with crimes.

Protestors demonstrating in solidarity with Julian Assange on a road outside Belmarsh Prison in the United Kingdom, January 2022,Alisdare Hickson, CC BY--SA 4.0

ikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is perilously close to extradition to the United States from Belmarsh Prison in London. He has one final opportunity on February 20 to persuade the British High Court of Justice that his rights would be violated if the appeals court allows the U.S. government to put him on trial.

Julian Assange during a press conference attended by international media at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, August 2014.

David G. Silvers, Cancillería del Ecuador, CC BY-SA 2.0

The case has been widely condemned by civil libertieshuman rights, and press freedom organizations because the allegations against Assange criminalize him for engaging in standard news gathering activities. Yet the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) under President Joe Biden has refused to heed calls, including from members of Congress, to drop the charges.

In 2010, Assange received hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents from U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning. They were published on WikiLeaks, exposing torture, war crimes, and unreported civilian deaths. Leaked State Department cables revealed the stark gap between what U.S. ambassadors say in public and do in private.

Manning was charged with Espionage Act-related offenses and prosecuted in a military court-martial. She received a thirty-five-year sentence that President Barack Obama later commuted. But Assange was not indicted for publishing documents. As The Washington Post reported in 2013, the DOJ determined there was no way to prosecute Assange without having to also prosecute The New York Times.

Such First Amendment concerns were not a problem for the DOJ once President Donald Trump was elected. Following WikiLeaks’ publication of materials on the CIA’s hacking capabilities, CIA Director Mike Pompeo sought revenge. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made arresting Assange a priority.

Assange was charged with seventeen counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and one count of “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.” Prosecutors accused Assange of soliciting information that he was not authorized to receive because he did not possess a U.S. security clearance. They maintained that Assange should have destroyed the documents he obtained from Manning and others or “returned” them to the U.S. government.

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Journalists and media organizations throughout the world routinely ask potential sources to leak information that is in the public interest. At least seventy-five news gathering organizations operate a submission system called SecureDrop developed by the Freedom of the Press Foundation that is similar to the submission system which WikiLeaks initially pioneered.

Imagine the uproar if any U.S. prosecutor ever asked The Washington Post, ProPublica, or NBC News to destroy documents, or their staff would face criminal charges. 

WikiLeaks logo (Wikileaks, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Assange is an Australian citizen. The Espionage Act has never been extraterritorially applied against anyone outside the United States before. By prosecuting Assange with the Espionage Act, the U.S. government has mounted an unprecedented attack on global press freedom that puts investigative journalism at risk.

Prosecuting Assange gives a green light to countries around the world that it is possible to protect their government secrets by charging international reporters or editors with crimes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently justified the detention of Evan Gershkovich, an American reporter for The Wall Street Journaltelling Tucker Carlson: “If a person gets secret information and does that in a conspiratorial manner, then this is qualified as espionage.”

Although what Putin said is authoritarian, this is not far off from the logic that underpins the U.S. case against Assange. Putin believes that Gershkovich was collecting secrets and should be jailed. The U.S. government believes that Assange was collecting secrets and should be jailed. Both are wrong. Both are fueling a race to the bottom that endangers journalism. 

There is no U.S. law against publishing classified information, and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is supposed to protect a person’s right to publish information, even if the material was hacked or stolen. 

The British legal system is unlikely to spare Assange. If the High Court rules against Assange, he could petition the European Court of Human Rights to hear an appeal. Or he could be extradited within days. If extradited, his wife Stella Assange says the WikiLeaks founder will die due to his poor mental and physical health.

Only a political solution can end this case and prevent the U.S. government from doing further damage to the freedom of the press. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and the Australian Parliament have passed a motion demanding the United States and United Kingdom free Assange and allow him to return home to Australia. 

A similar resolution was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. It states that “regular journalistic activities are protected under the First Amendment,” and that the United States ought to drop all charges and abandon all efforts to extradite Assange.

Groups around the world are calling on the United States government to immediately drop its charges against Assange and cease all efforts to extradite him from Britain. More information can be found at the website

Kevin Gosztola is the author of "Guilty of Journalism: The Political Case Against Julian Assange" from Censored Press and Seven Stories Press. He edits and publishes "The Dissenter" newsletter, which regularly covers press freedom at

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