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UK/US: Wikileaks founder and publisher Julian Assange close to extradition

June 21, 2023 IN WIP
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21 June – We – PEN International and the undersigned PEN Centres – express our deepest concerns over the decision by the UK High Court to reject the appeal of Wikileaks founder and publisher Julian Assange against his extradition order to the United States, where he faces up to 175 years in prison for his role in obtaining and publishing classified military and diplomatic documents. We once again call on the US authorities to drop all charges against him and on the UK authorities to release him from Belmarsh prison immediately.

In a three-page judgment issued on 6 June 2023, the UK High Court rejected all eight grounds of Assange’s appeal against his extradition order, signed by the UK Home Secretary in June 2022. Assange made a renewed application for appeal to the High Court on 13 June 2023; the matter will now proceed to a public hearing before two new judges. Alarmingly, no further appeals will be possible at the domestic level. In December 2022, Assange’s legal team already launched a case against the UK before the European Court of Human Rights, which could potentially order his extradition to be blocked.

We have repeatedly stressed that Assange’s prosecution raises profound concerns about freedom of the press. Invoking the Espionage Act for practices that include receiving and publishing classified information sends a dangerous signal to journalists and publishers around the world. At our 88th World Congress in Uppsala, Sweden, in September 2022, the PEN community united in one voice to condemn the prosecution of Assange and certification of his extradition, and the threats they pose to freedom of expression worldwide.

With the latest UK High Court decision moving Assange closer to extradition, we urge the US and UK authorities to end his judicial harassment once and for all, and to uphold instead their stated commitment to protect media freedom globally.

Assange should be released from Belmarsh prison – where he has been held on remand for over four years – as a matter of urgency and reunited with his family. His freedom of movement upon release must be respected.

The US authorities should drop the charges against Assange and withdraw their extradition request. Espionage laws should not be used against journalists or publishers for disclosing information of public interest.

Signed by

English PEN

German PEN

PEN International

PEN Melbourne

PEN Norway

PEN Slovenia

PEN Suisse romand

PEN Sydney

Scottish PEN

Swedish PEN

Background information

Wikileaks founder and publisher Julian Assange was arrested in April 2019 at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he had been given asylum for almost seven years. He was arrested for breaching his bail conditions in 2012, and further arrested on behalf of the US authorities under an extradition warrant for his role in obtaining and publishing classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010.

In the US, Assange would face trial on 17 counts under the Espionage Act and one count under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which combined could see him imprisoned for up to 175 years. In March 2022, the UK Supreme Court denied Assange’s request to appeal an earlier decision by the UK High Court that permitted his extradition to the US – which in turn had overturned a previous ruling by the District Court that found extradition would endanger his life. The UK Home Secretary approved his extradition on 17 June 2022 – a decision condemned by PEN International and PEN Centres around the world.

Assange is the first publisher to be charged under the Espionage Act. He is an honorary member of German PEN, PEN Melbourne, PEN Norway, and PEN Slovenia.

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo, Head of Europe and Central Asia Region at PEN International:

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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