Press Freedom Groups Defend Assange, Call Prosecution a ‘Dangerous Precedent’

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by Julia Conley, via The Free Thought Project:

“Using the draconian wartime powers of the Espionage Act against Assange undermines journalists’s rights and sets dangerous precedents that cast journalists and publishers as criminals.”

Press freedom advocates slammed the U.S. over its pending espionage charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange Monday as the first phase of Assange’s extradition trial began in London.

Groups including Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) joined supporters of Assange gathered at demonstrations around the world in demanding the U.K. not allow the Wikileaks founder’s extradition to the U.S., where he faces espionage charges for publishing thousands of classified materials regarding U.S. activities—including evidence of war crimes—in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

On social media, the #DontExtraditeAssange hashtag was being used worldwide by those opposed to the treatment of the now famous journalist and publisher.

The trial, supporters said, is about not just Assange’s individual fate, but concerns the future of press freedom all over the world.

“The extradition of Julian Assange to the United States to stand trial for his groundbreaking work with WikiLeaks would deal a body blow to First Amendment rights and press freedom. The U.K. should deny this request,” said CPJ deputy executive director Robert Mahoney. “Using the draconian wartime powers of the Espionage Act against Assange undermines journalists’s rights and sets dangerous precedents that cast journalists and publishers as criminals.”

The first phase of the trial is set to last a week and is aimed at determining whether U.S. efforts to extradite Assange are politically-motivated, which would make it illegal under a 2003 treaty between the two countries.

If extradited, Assange could face a prison sentence of up to 175 years for working with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who leaked documents to WikiLeaks and who has been held for nearly a year in a prison in Virginia for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury subpoena.

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