Categories
Statements

Open Letter

Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP
Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor
Ministry of Justice
102 Petty France
London
SW1H 9AJ

3 July 2020

RE: Open letter calling for the release of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange

CC: Rt Hon Dominic Raab, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Dear Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP,

On 8 June 2020, responding to a question in the House of Lords about the United Kingdom’s stance regarding the protection of journalists and press freedoms, Minister of State Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said, “Media freedom is vital to open societies. Journalists must be able to investigate and report without undue interference”.

We, the undersigned, agree with this statement and call on the UK government to uphold its commitment to press freedom in its own country. At the time of Lord Ahmad’s remarks, WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange had been imprisoned on remand in the high-security HMP Belmarsh for more than a year as he faces extradition to the United States on charges of publishing. We call on the UK government to release Mr Assange from prison immediately and to block his extradition to the US.

The US government has indicted Mr Assange on 18 counts for obtaining, possessing, conspiring to publish and for publishing classified information. The indictment contains 17 counts under the Espionage Act of 1917 and one charge of conspiring (with a source) to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which uses Espionage Act language. This is the first ever use of such charges for the publication of truthful information in the public interest, and it represents a gravely dangerous attempt to criminalise journalist-source communications and the publication by journalists of classified information, regardless of the newsworthiness of the information and in complete disregard of the public’s right to know.

On 24 June 2020, the US Department of Justice issued a second superseding indictment against Mr Assange, adding no new charges but expanding on the charge for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. This new indictment employs a selective and misleading narrative in an attempt to portray Mr Assange’s actions as nefarious and conspiratorial rather than as contributions to public interest reporting.

­The charges against Mr Assange carry a potential maximum sentence of 175 years in prison. Sending Mr Assange to the US, where a conviction is a near certainty, is tantamount to a death sentence.

This is an unprecedented escalation of an already disturbing assault on journalism in the US, where President Donald Trump has referred to the news media as the “enemy of the people”. Whereas previous presidents have prosecuted whistleblowers and other journalistic sources under the Espionage Act for leaking classified information, the Trump Administration has taken the further step of going after the publisher.

Mr Assange himself has been persecuted for publishing for nearly a decade. In 2012, with fears of a US prosecution that later proved prescient, Mr Assange sought and was granted asylum from the government of Ecuador, and he entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Because the UK declined to guarantee Mr Assange wouldn’t be extradited to the US, the United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that Mr Assange’s detention was indeed arbitrary and called on the UK to “immediately [allow] Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to walk free from the Ecuadorian embassy in London”.

President Obama’s administration prosecuted US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning for disclosing hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks on the US’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as State Department cables and files on inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison. But the administration, which had empanelled a Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks as early as 2010, explicitly decided not to prosecute Mr Assange due to what it termed the “New York Times problem.” As the Washington Post explained in November 2013, “If the Justice Department indicted Assange, it would also have to prosecute the New York Times and other news organizations and writers who published classified material, including The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper”.

When President Trump came to power, then-Attorney General of the US Jeff Sessions announced that prosecuting Assange would be a “priority”, despite the fact that no new evidence or information had come to light in the case. In April 2017, in a startling speech against WikiLeaks’ constitutional right to publish, then-CIA director Mike Pompeo declared WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service” and said, “Julian Assange has no First Amendment privileges”.

On 11 April 2019, Ecuador illegally terminated Mr Assange’s diplomatic asylum in violation of the Geneva Refugee Convention and invited the British police into their embassy, where he was immediately arrested at the request of the US. Mr Assange served a staggering 50 weeks in prison for a bail violation, but when that sentence ended in September 2019, he was not released. Mr Assange continues to be detained at HMP Belmarsh, now solely at the behest of the US.

Even before the lockdown initiated by the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Assange has been held in conditions approaching solitary confinement, confined to his cell more than 22 hours a day. Now under containment measures, Mr Assange is even more isolated, and he hasn’t seen his own children in several months. Furthermore, Mr Assange has been allowed extremely limited access to his lawyers and documents, severely hampering his ability to participate in his own legal defence. Following a visit to HMP Belmarsh accompanied by medical doctors in May 2019, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer determined that Mr Assange had endured psychological torture.

Mr Assange’s extradition hearing, which commenced for one week in February 2020 and is scheduled to continue for three more weeks, is set to resume in September. But the coronavirus, which has reportedly already killed at least one fellow inmate at HMP Belmarsh and which continues to spread through prisons at an alarming rate, puts the health and well-being of Mr Assange, who suffers from a chronic lung condition that makes him especially vulnerable to Covid-19, at serious risk.

The continued persecution of Mr Assange is contributing to a deterioration of press freedom in the UK and is serving to tarnish the UK’s international image. Reporters Without Borders cited the disproportionate sentencing of Mr Assange to 50 weeks in prison for breaking bail, the Home Office’s decision to greenlight the US extradition request, and Mr Assange’s continued detention as factors in the UK’s decline in ranking to 35th out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

We call on the UK government to release Mr Assange without further delay and block his extradition to the US – a measure that could save Mr Assange’s life and preserve the press freedom that the UK has committed to championing globally.

Signed:

Nathan Fuller, Executive Director, Courage Foundation
Rebecca Vincent, Director of International Campaigns, Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Adil Soz, International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Anthony Bellanger, General Secretary – International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
Archie Law, Chair Sydney Peace Foundation
Carles Torner, Executive Director, PEN International
Christine McKenzie, President, PEN Melbourne
Daniel Gorman, Director, English PEN
Kjersti Løken Stavrum, President, PEN Norway
Lasantha De Silva, Freed Media Movement
Marcus Strom, President, MEAA Media, Australia
Mark Isaacs, President of PEN International Sydney
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary, National Union of Journalists (NUJ)
Mousa Rimawi, Director, MADA – the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms
Naomi Colvin, UK/Ireland Programme Director, Blueprint for Free Speech
Silkie Carlo, Director, Big Brother Watch
Nora Wehofsits, Advocacy Officer, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
Peter Tatchell, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Ralf Nestmeyer, Vice President, German PEN
Rev Tim Costello AO, Director of Ethical Voice
Robert Wood, Chair, PEN Perth
Ruth Smeeth, Chief Executive Officer, Index on Censorship
Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia, ARTICLE 19
William Horsley, Media Freedom Representative, Association of European Journalists
Peter Weisenbacher – Institut Ludskych Prav (Human Rights Institute)
Foundation for Press Freedom (Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa)
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bytes for All (B4A)
Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility (CMFR)
The Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP-Liberia)
The Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ)
Free Media Movement Sri Lanka
Freedom Forum Nepal
IFoX / Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkey
International Association of Democratic Lawyers
International Press Centre (IPC)
Media Foundation for West Africa
Mediacentar Sarajevo
National Lawyers Guild International Committee
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)

Categories
Statements

Australian Legal Professionals

Senator the Hon Marise Payne,
Minister for Foreign Affairs
senator.payne@aph.gov.au
foreign.minister@dfat.gov.au
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

PO Box 5317
Cobargo
NSW 2550

27 May 2020

Dear Minister,

We the undersigned current and former practicing members of the Australian legal profession, are writing to seek your urgent intervention on behalf of Australian citizen Julian Assange.

We do this with due recognition that diplomatic intercessions in the legal processes of foreign countries is not lightly undertaken. We also recognise that under certain circumstances it is appropriate and necessary. Careful interventions on behalf of Peter Greste, Melinda Taylor, David Hicks, James Ricketson and many others made a meaningful difference to positive outcomes in each case.

We strongly argue that it is time Mr Assange received a similar level of meaningful support

As legal practitioners, we are deeply concerned about the precedent effect of prosecuting an awarded publisher for nothing more than doing his job. We also hold grave concerns about the conduct of this particular case given the enormous difficulties of conducting hearings amidst a pandemic. Mr Assange has been unable to meet with or instruct legal counsel, hearings have been disrupted and nearly impossible to follow by teleconference, and resolution has now been pushed back to September at the earliest. With viral spread throughout the UK prison system, the situation has become untenable.

Before the court reconvenes on 1 June, we request of you the following:

1. To make representation on Mr Assange’s behalf that he be released on bail immediately;
2. To relay to us the outcome of this representation.

An Australian citizen needs the active support of his Government, now more than ever. We await a reply at the earliest possibility,

Regards,

Julian Burnside AO QC
Elizabeth O’Shea
Malcolm Ramage QC
Benedict Coyne
Dr Spencer Zifcak, Allan Myers Professor of Law, Australian Catholic University
Allan Myers QC
Mark Davis
Adjunct Professor George Newhouse
David McBride
Stephen Keim SC
Phillip Segal

Categories
Statements

MPs, Former MPs and Councillors

Senator the Hon Marise Payne,
Minister for Foreign Affairs
senator.payne@aph.gov.au
foreign.minister@dfat.gov.au
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

PO Box 5317
Cobargo
NSW 2550

27 May 2020

Dear Minister,

We the undersigned currently serving and former Members of Parliament, Senators and Councillors are writing to seek your advice and your urgent intervention to protect Australian publisher Julian Assange.

Mr Assange is detained in Belmarsh prison in the UK in the midst of extradition proceedings wholly relating to publications for which the Walkley Foundation awarded WikiLeaks the 2011 “Most outstanding contribution to journalism”.

The extradition hearings have been disrupted and delayed, leaving Mr Assange unable to have his case heard until September 2020 at the earliest, while deaths within the UK prison populations and illness amongst judicial and penal staff cohorts continue to rise.

Even absent the heightened risks of a global public health crisis, Mr Assange is in poor health and has never needed the support of his Government more.

We are well placed to understand the diplomatic sensitivities given that the countries responsible for detaining and prosecuting Mr Assange are two of our closest allies. But one of the things that gives an alliance value is the ability to advocate directly in the interests of Australian citizens without such advocacy being mistaken for hostility.

Today we are asking you to convey our concerns, and any that you may share through appropriate channels, with the greatest of urgency. The court will convene next by teleconference on 1 June. Before this time we request of you the following

1. To make representation on Mr Assange’s behalf that he be released on bail immediately
2. To relay to us the outcome of this representation

You will note that the signatories below encompass a very wide range of Australian political representation, from government, opposition and the crossbench, from former Ministers to independents. We believe this accurately reflects that concern for the well being of Mr Assange and the work of a free and open media transcends political loyalties.

We await a reply at the earliest possibility,

yours faithfully,

Andrew Wilkie MHR
Senator Peter Whish-Wilson
George Christensen MHR
Susan Templeman MHR
Zali Steggall MHR
Tony Zappia MHR
Julian Hill MHR
Adam Bandt MHR
Senator Richard Di Natale
Senator Rex Patrick
Senator Nick McKim
Maria Vamvakinou MHR
former Senator Christine Milne
former Senator Scott Ludlam
former Senator Andrew Bartlett
former Senator Lee Rhiannon
Arthur Chesterfield-Evans
Sylvia Hale
James Ryan
Cathy Griff
Rochelle Porteous
Toni Wright-Tu
Greg Clancy
Phillip Bradley
Rohan Leppert
Vanessa Ekins
Brent Hoare
Philipa Veitch

Categories
Statements

Human Rights Advocates

Senator the Hon Marise Payne,
Minister for Foreign Affairs
senator.payne@aph.gov.au
foreign.minister@dfat.gov.au
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

PO Box 5317
Cobargo
NSW 2550

27 May 2020

Dear Minister,

We the undersigned representatives of Australian human rights, digital rights and civil society organisations are calling for your urgent intervention on behalf of Mr Julian Assange.

Mr Assange and his colleagues at WikiLeaks helped extend the power of investigative journalism and truth-telling into the digital age, exposing war crimes and human rights abuses to public view. As a result, he has paid a heavy penalty.

In May 2019, Professor Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture declared that Mr Assange had been “exposed to persistent, progressively severe abuse ranging from systematic judicial persecution and arbitrary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, to his oppressive isolation, harassment and surveillance inside the embassy, and from deliberate collective ridicule, insults and humiliation, to open instigation of violence and even repeated calls for his assassination.” He stated that Mr Assange shows the symptoms of an individual subjected to torture.

Professor Melzer’s review was undertaken well before the global pandemic, which has severely disrupted the UK’s prison and judicial systems. Since then, the situation has deteriorated gravely, with remand prisoners now subjected to effective solitary confinement.

The Australian government should be willing to intervene to protect the lives of Australians caught up in legal processes in foreign countries, where those proceedings violate international law.

Before the court reconvenes on 1 June, we request of you the following:

1. To make representation on Mr Assange’s behalf that he be released on bail immediately;
2. To relay to us the outcome of this representation.

Mr Assange is a publisher, a father and an Australian citizen. It is time he had the support of his Government.

We await your response,

yours sincerely,

Suelette Dreyfus, Blueprint for Free Speech
Stuart Rees, Sydney Peace Foundation
George Newhouse, National Justice Project
Lizzie O’Shea, Digital Rights Watch
Victorian Council for Civil Liberties (Liberty Victoria)
Nicholas Cowdery AO QC,President, New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties
Valerie Joy, Alternatives to Violence Queensland
Christine McKenzie, PEN Melbourne
Margaret Pestorius, Australian Nonviolence Projects
Margaret Pestorius, Australian Nonviolence Projects
Cate Adams, Wage Peace
Dr Sue Wareham OAM, Medical Association for the Prevention of War
Paul Barratt AO, Australians for War Powers Reform
Tony Kevin, Canberra
Stanley Koulouris, Unions Australia, Sydney.
Dr K.H. Sievers, Australian Voice
Ian Rose, Support Assange & WikiLeaks Coalition (Sydney Aus)
Lorese Vera, Convenor, Canberra Action 4 Assange.
Tristan Sykes Convenor, Free Assange Hobart
Clare Smith, Adelaide support group for Assange
Margaret Grace Richardson, Founder – Julian Assange Supporters Alice Springs
Sean O’Reilly, Brisbane Assange Action Brisbane Queensland
Rod Lemin, Brisbane Assange Action Brisbane Queensland
Paul Oboohov, Socialist Alliance, Canberra Branch
Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS)
Raine Sinclair, Melbourne4WikiLeaks
Tom Cooper, Melbourne4WikiLeaks
Lorine Anita Brice, Melbourne4WikiLeaks
Kate Hecimovic, Melbourne4WikiLeaks
Joe Lorback, Solidarity Sound System
Danielle Wood, People For Assange
Mitchell Duirs, Perth 4 Assange, WA
Walter Mellado, Australians For Assange
Amelia Ryan, Australians For Assange
Dianne Andary, Australians For Assange
Desmond McMillan, Australians For Assange
Phillip Adams, Australians For Assange
Camillo De Luca, Australians For Assange
Rosemary Gower, Riverland Support Group for Julian Assange’s Freedom Jean Lee, Adelaide Friends of Wikileaks

Categories
Statements

Writers, Publishers and Journalists

Senator the Hon Marise Payne,
Minister for Foreign Affairs
senator.payne@aph.gov.au
foreign.minister@dfat.gov.au
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

PO Box 5317
Cobargo
NSW 2550

27 May 2020

Dear Minister,

We the undersigned journalists, publishers and writers are seeking your urgent intervention to have Julian Assange immediately released on bail.

Mr Assange is facing life in prison for publications in partnership with the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and other major media partners in 2010 and 2011.

You will be aware that Australia’s Walkley Foundation recognised WikiLeaks with its 2011 “Most outstanding contribution to journalism” award, for breaking the stories for which Mr Assange is now facing 175 years in prison. For anyone who cares about freedom of the press as a cornerstone of democracy, this is completely unacceptable.

There is no doubt these extradition proceedings are intended to send a message to other publishing organisations large and small, independent and institutional, that reporting of unapproved national security stories will not be tolerated.

We hear this message, and we reject it. The use of espionage charges against people publishing materials provided by whistleblowers is deeply alarming, and runs directly against the foundational principles of free and fearless reporting.

Now, in the midst of a pandemic, court proceedings have been thrown into chaos. The UK prison system is no place for a publisher at the best of times, and these are not the best of times.

Before the court reconvenes on 1 June we request of you the following:

1. To make representation on Mr Assange’s behalf that he be released on bail immediately
2. To relay to us the outcome of this representation

We represent a wide cross-section of Australian journalists and publishers, having worked in public and private broadcasting, print, radio and online media. We are determined to raise our voices to free one of our own, and we ask that you raise your voice with us.

in trust,

Jeff Sparrow
Wendy Bacon
Mary Kostakidis
Andrew Fowler
Quentin Dempster
Valerie Krips
Antony Loewenstein
Dylan Welch
Dr Alison Broinowski
Jon Altman
Paddy Manning
Phillip Adams AO
George Burchett
Giordano Nanni
Cathy Vogan
Alison Caddick
Sarah Bailey
Jordan Brown
James Ricketson
Curtis Levy
Richard Broinowski AO
Timothy Erik Ström
Stefan Moore
Simon Cooper, Aren
Peter Cronau
Michael Williams
Michael Rubbo
Guy Rundle
David Bradbury
Chas Licciardello
Bernard Keane
Helen Razer
Benedetta Brevini
Julian Morrow
Rohan Connolly

Categories
Statements

Human Rights Advocates

Senator the Hon Marise Payne,
Minister for Foreign Affairs
senator.payne@aph.gov.au
foreign.minister@dfat.gov.au
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

PO Box 5317
Cobargo
NSW 2550

27 May 2020

Dear Minister,

We the undersigned representatives of Australian human rights, digital rights and civil society organisations are calling for your urgent intervention on behalf of Mr Julian Assange.

Mr Assange and his colleagues at WikiLeaks helped extend the power of investigative journalism and truth-telling into the digital age, exposing war crimes and human rights abuses to public view. As a result, he has paid a heavy penalty.

In May 2019, Professor Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture declared that Mr Assange had been “exposed to persistent, progressively severe abuse ranging from systematic judicial persecution and arbitrary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, to his oppressive isolation, harassment and surveillance inside the embassy, and from deliberate collective ridicule, insults and humiliation, to open instigation of violence and even repeated calls for his assassination.” He stated that Mr Assange shows the symptoms of an individual subjected to torture.

Professor Melzer’s review was undertaken well before the global pandemic, which has severely disrupted the UK’s prison and judicial systems. Since then, the situation has deteriorated gravely, with remand prisoners now subjected to effective solitary confinement.

The Australian government should be willing to intervene to protect the lives of Australians caught up in legal processes in foreign countries, where those proceedings violate international law.

Before the court reconvenes on 1 June, we request of you the following:

1. To make representation on Mr Assange’s behalf that he be released on bail immediately;
2. To relay to us the outcome of this representation.

Mr Assange is a publisher, a father and an Australian citizen. It is time he had the support of his Government.

We await your response,

yours sincerely,

Suelette Dreyfus, Blueprint for Free Speech
Stuart Rees, Sydney Peace Foundation
George Newhouse, National Justice Project
Lizzie O’Shea, Digital Rights Watch
Victorian Council for Civil Liberties (Liberty Victoria)
Nicholas Cowdery AO QC,President, New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties
Valerie Joy, Alternatives to Violence Queensland
Christine McKenzie, PEN Melbourne Margaret Pestorius, Australian Nonviolence Projects
Cate Adams, Wage Peace
Dr Sue Wareham OAM, Medical Association for the Prevention of War Tony Kevin, Canberra
Stanley Koulouris, Unions Australia, Sydney.
Dr K.H. Sievers, Australian Voice
Ian Rose, Support Assange & WikiLeaks Coalition (Sydney Aus)
Lorese Vera, Convenor, Canberra Action 4 Assange.
Tristan Sykes Convenor, Free Assange Hobart
Clare Smith, Adelaide support group for Assange
Margaret Grace Richardson, Founder – Julian Assange Supporters Alice Springs
Sean O’Reilly, Brisbane Assange Action Brisbane Queensland
Rod Lemin, Brisbane Assange Action Brisbane Queensland
Paul Oboohov, Socialist Alliance, Canberra Branch
Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS)
Raine Sinclair, Melbourne4WikiLeaks
Tom Cooper, Melbourne4WikiLeaks
Lorine Anita Brice, Melbourne4WikiLeaks
Kate Hecimovic, Melbourne4WikiLeaks
Joe Lorback, Solidarity Sound System
Danielle Wood, People For Assange
Mitchell Duirs, Perth 4 Assange, WA
Walter Mellado, Australians For Assange
Amelia Ryan, Australians For Assange
Dianne Andary, Australians For Assange
Desmond McMillan, Australians For Assange
Phillip Adams, Australians For Assange
Camillo De Luca, Australians For Assange
Rosemary Gower, Riverland Support Group for Julian Assange’s Freedom Jean Lee, Adelaide Friends of Wikileaks