The editors of The New York Times, The Guardian and other major international news outlets that worked alongside WikiLeaks are calling on the U.S. government to end its prosecution of founder Julian Assange.
In an open letter penned Monday, The Times and The Guardian, as well as French newspaper Le Monde, Spanish newspaper El Pais and German news site Der Spiegel said that the American government’s dogged pursuit of criminal charges against Mr. Assange is a threat to press freedom and the First Amendment more broadly.
“Obtaining and disclosing sensitive information when necessary in the public interest is a core part of the daily work of journalists,” the letter reads. “If that work is criminalised, our public discourse and our democracies are made significantly weaker.”
While the Obama administration chose not to indict Mr. Assange when the leaks were published in 2010 and 2011 for fear of having to indict journalists from major media outlets as well, the letter said the Trump administration would later invoke the Espionage Act of 1917 when charging Mr. Assange in 2019.
Mr. Assange was granted political refugee status at Ecuador’s Embassy in the U.K. in 2012, until he was jailed at the high-security Belmarsh prison in London in 2019. He is currently appealing his extradition to the U.S., according to the BBC.
The WikiLeaks founder became a notorious figure in the eyes of the American government after he published troves of leaked documents from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well as years’ worth of cables from the U.S. State Department.
It was the State Department leaks — dubbed “Cablegate” — that the major media outlets assisted in publishing in redacted form between late 2010 through early 2011. However, WikiLeaks later published the more than 250,000 cables it obtained in full, unredacted form by September 2011.
“This group of editors and publishers, all of whom had worked with Assange, felt the need to publicly criticize his conduct in 2011 when unredacted copies of the cables were released, and some of us are concerned about the allegations in the indictment that he attempted to aid in computer intrusion of a classified database,” the letter reads. “But we come together now to express our grave concerns about the continued prosecution of Julian Assange for obtaining and publishing classified materials.”
U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, who has since identified as Chelsea, was a known source for the leaks provided to WikiLeaks.
Ms. Manning was convicted for her role in the leaks in 2013, although she was released from a military prison 2017 after President Obama commuted her sentence that same year. She had been imprisoned for seven years by the time of her release.
The former U.S. Army soldier was also jailed for nearly a year during a separate criminal investigation into WikiLeaks, according to Reuters. She was released in March 2020.