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Assange case “sets terrifying precedent”, says lawyer

November 28, 2019 IN WIP
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During a recent visit to Australia, Jennifer Robinson, legal adviser to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, sat down with MEAA to explain the implications for all journalists of the US government indictment against Assange, and why it is important for MEAA members to campaign against his extradition on press freedom grounds.

Assange, faces up to 170 years in jail if extradited, tried and found guilty of espionage charges laid by the United States government.

Assange, who is an Australian citizen and a member of MEAA Media, has been indicted by the US Justice Department with 18 charges under the Espionage Act for his role in receiving and publishing classified defence documents both on the WikiLeaks website and in collaboration with major publishers including The New York Times, and The Guardian.

Assange is currently an inmate of the Belmarsh Prison in England for unrelated offences, and the US government is expected to begin extradition proceedings next year.

Since Assange’s arrest in August, MEAA has made several representations on his behalf to the Australian and UK governments, urging them to oppose his extradition to the US.

“The extradition of Assange and prosecution by the United States for what are widely considered to be acts of journalism would set a disturbing global precedent for the suppression of press freedom,” MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy and Media section president Marcus Strom said in a letter to both governments in June. Read the letters from MEAA here and here.

MEAA also organised an urgent resolution to be passed at the International Federation of Journalists Congress in Tunisia in June to take Assange’s case to the UN Human Rights Council.

London-based Australian human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson has been a legal adviser to Assange and Wikileaks since the start of this decade.

Ms Robinson says the indictment of Assange “sets a terrifying precedent” by “criminalising common journalistic practices which have been used towards the public interest for decades in the United States”.

“Julian is an Australian citizen, a member of the MEAA, who faces prosecution and extradition to the United States for publishing . . . truthful information about the United States,” she says. “That is a terrifying precedent and will impact on not just the US media but on journalists and news organisations around the world.”

Ms Robinson says the extradition hearing may be drawn out for several years and Assange is grateful for any support for his case from MEAA and its members in the Australian media community.

In a letter dated 25 November 2019, PEN Melbourne and Sydney centres wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs the Hon Marise Payne, urging her and the Australian government to reconsider its position on Mr Assange and to speak against his extradition to the United States.

The full text of the letter is available as a pdf on the link below:

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People say that (writers) are pretty powerless: we don’t have an army, we don’t have a bureaucracy. But if that were true, then why would writers be arrested?... Because the spoken word is powerful.

— John Ralston Saul on the work of PEN International