If the US succeeds in prosecuting the publisher and editor of WikiLeaks, for revealing information the US says is “secret”, it will open the flood gates to an extremely dangerous precedent. Not only will the US government immediately seize on the precedent to initiate further prosecutions, states the world over will follow suit and claim that their secrecy laws must apply globally too. Assange’s co-publishers at Der Spiegel, Le Monde, New York Times, Espresso and The Guardian, among others, will also risk immediate prosecution in (and extradition to) the US. The prosecution of Assange will have a profound chilling effect on the press and national security reporting. Publishers should not be prosecuted,in the US or elsewhere,for the “crime” of publishing truthful information.
The extradition and prosecution of Julian Assange would post an invitation to other states to follow suit, severely threatening the ability of journalists, publishers and human rights organizations to safely reveal information about serious international issues. If the Trump Administration can prosecute an Australian journalist in Europe for publishing material on theUS, why can’t Russia prosecute an American journalist in Washington revealing secrets about Moscow? Why can’t Saudi Arabia prosecute a Turkish journalist forrevealing secrets about the Khashoggi murder?
With the Assange precedent established, foreign states will have grounds to insist journalists and publishers are extradited for their reporting. Even in states that ban the extradition of their citizens, as soon as the journalist goes on holiday or on assignment, they can be arrested and extradited from a third state using the Assange precedent.
The cases against Julian Assange and Glenn Greenwald may be models for a crackdown.
This is the most important press freedom case of the 21st century.
Together with the International Federation Of Journalists they expressed their concerns: “This case stands at the heart of the principle of free speech. If the US government can prosecute Mr Assange for publishing classified documents, it may clear the way for governments to prosecute journalists anywhere, an alarming precedent for freedom of the press worldwide. Also, the use of espionage charges against people publishing materials provided by whistleblowers is a first and should alarm every journalist and publisher. In a democracy, journalists can reveal war crimes and cases of torture and abuse without having to go to jail. It is the very role of the press in a democracy. If governments can use espionage laws against journalists and publishers, they are deprived of their most important and traditional defense – of acting in the public interest – which does not apply under the Espionage Act.”
Centre For Investigative Journalism stated that “whatever your view of its philosophy of radical transparency, Wikileaks is a publisher. Any charges now brought in connection with that material, or any attempt to extradite Mr Assange to the United States for prosecution under the deeply flawed cudgel of the Espionage Act 1917, is an attack on all of us. Mr Assange deserves the solidarity of the community of investigative journalists. The world is now watching.”
The Justice Department is drawing a line the First Amendment simply doesn’t draw — and is threatening the freedom of every news outlet in the process.
Many legal experts fear it does, and say journalists could find themselves facing similar charges if they try to protect their sources.
The U.S. government’s aggressive prosecution of leaks and efforts to control information are already having a chilling effect on journalists and government whistle-blowers. Many journalistic sources, including those of TIME, have shifted to encrypted means of communication or don’t engage at all as a result of the Assange indictment.
“Similar to Greenwald’s charges in Brazil, the DOJ indictment against Assange centers on the way he allegedly solicited Manning for leaks and tried to protect her identity. Media organizations warned that the prosecution would set a dangerous precedent.”
The US government’s extradition and prosecution of Julian Assange is a critical moment for press freedom, but also for the anti-war movement. This aggressive government’s assault on journalists poses grave danger to peace, for without a press that is free and independent, truth that has the power to stop wars is defenseless.