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Knight Institute Comments on Decision to Reject U.S. Request for Extradition of Julian Assange

4 January 2021

Says indictment under the Espionage Act will continue to cast a shadow over investigative journalism.

NEW YORK—A British judge today rejected the U.S. request for the extradition of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to face charges under the 1917 Espionage Act. Assange’s case is the first in which the U.S. government has relied on the Espionage Act as the basis for the prosecution of a publisher.

The following response can be attributed to Jameel Jaffer, Executive Director at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

“This is a victory for Assange, but it’s not an uncomplicated victory for press freedom. The court makes clear that it would have granted the U.S. extradition request if not for concerns about Assange’s mental health, and about the severe conditions in which the U.S. would likely imprison him. In other words, the court endorses the U.S. prosecution even as it rejects the U.S. extradition request. The result is that the U.S. indictment of Assange will continue to cast a dark shadow over investigative journalism. Of particular concern are the indictment’s counts that focus on pure publication—the counts that charge Assange with having violated the Espionage Act merely by publishing classified secrets. Those counts are an unprecedented attack on press freedom, one calculated to deter journalists and publishers from exercising rights that the First Amendment should be understood to protect.”

Jaffer submitted expert testimony to the U.K. court about the press freedom implications of the Assange indictment. Read the testimony here.

Read the statement from KFAI’s official website.