Echo: Editorial – Prosecuting publishers

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Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, may be facing his final court hearing in the UK High Court of Justice soon. The hearing concerns if he will be extradited to the US to face spying charges. 

In 2010, Julian Assange published classified US military information provided by Chelsea Manning, a US Army whistleblower, to WikiLeaks. This information included details of war crimes, torture, assassinations, and the identities of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

Despite the publication of this sensitive information, there is no evidence indicating that it directly led to any deaths or compromise of security of the United States. However, it did cause significant embarrassment for the US government and stirred widespread concern globally.

Assange spent seven years within the Ecuadorian embassy in the UK, followed by nearly five years of confinement in Belmarsh maximum security prison, all without formal charges.

Critics have pointed out that the federal Labor government's management of Assange's case lacked significant efforts towards negotiation for his release. Speculation has arised, suggesting that the political ramifications on the relationship with the US could be the primary reason for this. Additionally, recent geopolitical events, such as the controversial AUKUS pact, have provided potential leverage points for negotiation, yet no progress has been seen.

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) say, ‘If extradited to the US, Assange faces a staggering possible prison sentence of 175 years. This is the first time in US history that a publisher has been prosecuted for obtaining or publishing (as opposed to leaking) US state secrets’. 

NSWCCL president Lydia Shelly said, ‘Chelsea Manning was pardoned by Obama and released after seven years in prison’. 

‘The Obama administration decided not to proceed with charges against Assange, but they were revived under President Trump’.

NSWCCL adds, ‘Assange would go on trial in the Eastern District of Virginia court where the jury pool relies heavily on employees or family members of employees of the CIA, the NSA, the Pentagon and other national security institutions’.

‘The US government is attempting to use its 1917 Espionage Act against a journalist and publisher for the very first time. Assange is not a US citizen, and his publications occurred in the UK’. 

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