Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Supporters of WikiLeaks founder and publisher Julian Assange rally after a prolonged legal hearing at the Old Bailey on January 4, 2021, in London.

Supporters of WikiLeaks founder and publisher Julian Assange rally after a prolonged legal hearing at the Old Bailey on January 4, 2021, in London. (Photo: Richard Baker/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Ignoring Pleas of Press Freedom Defenders, Biden DOJ Files Appeal to Extradite Julian Assange

"The Assange case represents the gravest threat to press freedom in a generation."

Jake Johnson

The Biden Justice Department on Friday formally appealed a British judge's rejection of the U.S. request to extradite Julian Assange, confirming the new administration's intention to run with its predecessor's espionage charges against the WikiLeaks publisher despite warnings that the case endangers press freedoms around the world.

"Yes, we filed an appeal and we are continuing to pursue extradition," Marc Raimondi, a Justice Department spokesperson, told AFP on Friday, the deadline for the U.S. to appeal Judge Vanessa Baraitser's ruling from last month.

As Common Dreams reported at the time, while Baraitser accepted most of the allegations that the Trump Justice Department leveled against Assange in its 2019 indictment—which charges the WikiLeaks founder with 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act—the judge denied the U.S. extradition request on the grounds that America's brutal prison system would pose a threat to Assange's life.

"The Assange case could allow prosecutors to build criminal cases against journalists who obtain government secrets based on their interactions with their sources."
—James Risen, The Intercept

If extradited to the U.S., Assange could face up to 175 years in a maximum-security prison—conditions under which Assange would likely commit suicide, Baraitser warned in her decision.

"Disappointing that the Biden administration should do this given the chilling effect the ongoing pursuit of Julian Assange will have on press freedom," Stefan Simanowitz, Amnesty International's media manager for Europe, tweeted in response to the Biden administration's appeal.

In anticipation of the DOJ's filing, the Courage Foundation—an organization dedicated to defending whistleblowers—said in a statement Thursday that, if confirmed as Biden's attorney general, Merrick Garland should "take a renewed look at the prosecution" of Assange and "drop the case."

"The Assange case represents the gravest threat to press freedom in a generation," the group said. "It's not about Julian Assange as a person. It's about whether the U.S. government will respect the role journalism plays in democratic life (as a check on powerful institutions)."

The Justice Department's appeal came just days after a coalition of press freedom and human rights organizations including the ACLU, Amnesty International, and PEN America published an open letter urging the Biden administration to drop the case against Assange, whose release of classified documents exposed U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Journalists at major news publications regularly speak with sources, ask for clarification or more documentation, and receive and publish documents the government considers secret," the open letter reads. "In our view, such a precedent in this case could effectively criminalize these common journalistic practices. In addition, some of the charges included in the indictment turn entirely on Mr. Assange's decision to publish classified information."

 

 

In a column on Thursday, The Intercept's James Risen similarly warned that "if the Assange prosecution is successful, it will set a dangerous legal standard" and "open the door for the government to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information, even if doing so is in the public interest."

"The Assange case could allow prosecutors to build criminal cases against journalists who obtain government secrets based on their interactions with their sources," Risen wrote. "Investigative reporters throughout the country could face criminal liability simply for meeting with sources and encouraging them to provide information."

"That would make it nearly impossible for reporters to aggressively cover the Pentagon, the CIA, or the National Security Agency," Risen added, "and ultimately imperil the American republic."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Tipping Point of No Return' Feared as Amazon Rainforest Fires Surge

"Up to now, the Biden administration has only legitimized the Brazilian government's anti-Indigenous and anti-environmental agenda," said Greenpeace USA.

Jake Johnson ·


Biden Urged to Embrace Windfall Tax as Exxon Says Profits Doubled in Second Quarter

"It's time for the president to demand that Congress pass a windfall profits tax on Big Oil and use the revenue to provide rebates to consumers NOW!" wrote Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Jake Johnson ·


Texas Supreme Court Allows Century-Old Abortion Ban to Take Effect

"Extremist politicians are on a crusade to force Texans into pregnancy and childbirth against their will, no matter how devastating the consequences."

Jake Johnson ·


'What's There to Even Discuss?' Omar Says Free, Universal School Meals Should Be Permanent

"We have an opportunity to prove that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people can still deliver big things. And we can feed tens of millions of hungry kids while we do it."

Jake Johnson ·


'Stark Betrayal': Biden Administration Floats New Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling

"This is the third time since November the Biden administration has announced new oil and gas leasing plans on the Friday before a holiday," said one climate advocate. "They're ashamed, and they should be."

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo