U.K. Judge Rejects Assange Extradition, but It’s No Win for Freedom of the Press
Today a United Kingdom judge denied a United States request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face conspiracy and espionage charges for publishing secret Iraq and Afghanistan war documents.
Unfortunately, the judge’s explanation is not the victory for press freedom that it should be. It’s instead rooted in concerns that the harshness of America’s prison system might drive a mentally ailing Assange to commit suicide while in detention.
Assange, for his role in encouraging Chelsea Manning to leak military and intelligence documents back in 2009 and 2010, was indicted in 2019 on 18 charges of espionage and additional charges of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by giving Manning some minor suggestions on how to crack a password.
The decision to prosecute Assange for his role in publishing classified information crossed a critical threshold—never before had a media figure or journalist been charged with espionage for such an act. Leakers themselves have certainly been charged and have served prison time. But until Assange, the Department of Justice had not charged those who had published the classified information with crimes.
As such, a number of journalists (including many of us here at Reason) and organizations representing journalists have been critical of the charges against Assange. During the extradition hearings, Assange’s lawyers brought forth media experts to argue that what Assange had been doing is normal and widely permitted behavior by journalists and that the public had the right to know the information that he published.
The judge, Vanessa Baraitser of Westminister Magistrates’ Court, ultimately agreed with the Justice Department’s arguments that Assange’s actions went above and beyond journalism and into the realm of criminal conspiracy, looking not just at U.S. law, but British and European Union precedents determining when press freedom may be constrained:
The defence submits that, by disclosing Ms. M
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