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Marking Two Years Since Assange's Arrest, Press Freedom Advocates Demand Biden DOJ Drop All Charges

"Shame on the U.S. and U.K. It's time to free Assange!"

Free Assange poster seen in a window of a closed shop in Dublin city center on March 16, 2021, in Dublin, Ireland.

Free Assange poster seen in a window of a closed shop in Dublin city center on March 16, 2021, in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Press freedom advocates on Sunday marked the two-year anniversary of Julian Assange's arrest at the hands of British police by demanding that the Biden administration immediately drop all U.S. charges against the WikiLeaks publisher, who is currently facing 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act.

"Today marks two full years that Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange has been incarcerated at Belmarsh prison," said Rebecca Vincent, director of international campaigns at Reporters Without Borders. "Shame on the U.S. and U.K. It's time to free Assange."

In April of 2019, U.K. law enforcement officers dragged Assange out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London—where he was granted asylum nearly seven years earlier—following Ecuador President Lenin Moreno's decision to revoke the publisher's protections.

Since his arrest, Assange has been detained in a high-security London prison while battling the U.S. government's attempt to extradite him, an effort that began under the Trump administration and has continued under President Joe Biden.

Given that Assange is facing up to 175 years in prison for publishing classified documents—something that journalists do often—the U.S. extradition push has been widely condemned as a dire threat to press freedoms around the world.

As Shadowproof managing editor Kevin Gosztola wrote Sunday, U.S. "prosecutors explicitly singled out Assange as an 'aider' and 'abettor' of 'espionage' for publishing unauthorized disclosures of classified information, even though reporters and editors at media organizations throughout the world routinely produce stories based upon sensitive documents without a U.S. security clearance."

"President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Attorney General Merrick Garland now have the obligation, if they are serious about press freedom, to drop the charges that were issued under Trump by a Justice Department deeply politicized by Attorney General Bill Barr," Gosztola added.

In a New York Times op-ed late last year, filmmaker and journalist Laura Poitras noted that

WikiLeaks' publications exposed war crimes, revealed previously undisclosed civilian deaths in American-occupied Iraq, detailed government corruption in Tunisia on the eve of the Arab Spring, and generated countless other reports that dominated the front pages of newspapers around the world throughout 2010 and 2011.

WikiLeaks was responsible for the most unvarnished reporting on American occupations and foreign policy since the start of the "war on terror," and helped to shift the public consciousness.

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None of the architects of the "war on terror," including the CIA's torture programs, have been brought to justice. In contrast, Mr. Assange is facing a possible sentence of up to 175 years in prison.

More than three months ago, as Common Dreams reported at the time, a British judge rejected the U.S. extradition request on the grounds that the American prison system is so inhumane that "Assange's mental health would deteriorate, causing him to commit suicide."

But Assange was later denied bail by the same judge and has remained imprisoned as the Biden Justice Department appeals the extradition ruling, despite calls from press freedom organizations to drop the charges.

In solidarity with Assange, demonstrators on Sunday gathered in London and other major cities to demand his release.

"Colleagues tell me the 'Assange' case is 'complex.' It's not," Stefania Maurizi, an Italian investigative journalist, tweeted Sunday. "After revealing war crimes, he has never known freedom again, while the war criminals have never spent a day in prison. His partner Stella Moris and their children live in anxiety, while the war criminals live comfortably."

Writing on a crowdfunding page for Assange's extradition fight, Moris praised the solidarity actions and called the two-year anniversary of her partner's arrest "a platform to educate, nurture compassion and solidarity, and bring like-minded people onboard."

"Remind people that the judge threw out the U.S. extradition request in January," Moris wrote. "Remind them that Julian published information because he defends people's right to know what the government does in their name. Remind them that he has done nothing wrong and to put him in prison is to criminalize journalism. Remind them that he has a family and that he is suffering."

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