Legendary singer and artist Patti Smith, National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, world-renowned scholar Noam Chomsky, and acclaimed filmmaker Oliver Stone are among those asking President Donald Trump to put the brakes on the escalating war on free speech and stop pursuing charges against WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.
The noted figures make the plea in an open letter to the president (who once declared "I love WikiLeaks!"). It references reporting last month that Trump's Justice Department (DOJ) was weighing charges against members of the media organization that could include conspiracy, theft of government property, or violating the Espionage Act, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions' comment: "We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks."
But, the letter states,
[a] threat to WikiLeaks' work—which is publishing information protected under the First Amendment—is a threat to all free journalism. If the DOJ is able to convict a publisher for its journalistic work, all free journalism can be criminalized.
We call on you as President of the United States to close the Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks and drop any charges planned against any member of WikiLeaks. It was a free and robust press that provided you with a platform on which to run for president. Defending a truly free press requires freedom from fear and favor and the support of journalists and citizens everywhere; for the kind of threat now facing WikiLeaks—and all publishers and journalists—is a step into the darkness.
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Among the other noted signatories are NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake; Pentagon Paper leaker Dan Ellsberg; anti-torture whistleblower John Kiriakou; Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire; former State Department official Matthew Hoh, who resigned in protest over the Afghan war; and former Greek finance minister and Democracy in Europe Movement co-founder Yanis Varoufakis.
Chomsky, for his part, has called the targeting of WikiLeaks and Assange—who remains inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London—"a disgraceful act." Pursuing criminal prosecution against him, Chomsky said to Democracy Now! last month, is "the kind of effort that a government would carry out that is dedicated to trying to protect itself from exposure of facts that citizens should have, but systems of power don't want them to have."
And if it's true that this new priority is due to Assange having helped Snowden or army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, "he should be honored for it [because] Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden carried out heroic, courageous acts," Chomsky added.
The new letter was organized by the Courage Foundation, which fundraises to support truth-tellers.