Human rights groups have urged the new US administration to drop its case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, ahead of a Friday deadline for Washington to appeal against a court ruling that barred his extradition from Britain.
Twenty-four organizations including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA and Reporters Without Borders wrote an open letter demanding a change of course by President Joe Biden‘s Department of Justice.
“Journalists at major news publications regularly speak with sources, ask for clarification or more documentation, and receive and publish documents the government considers secret,” the letter said.
“In our view, such a precedent in this case could effectively criminalise these common journalistic practices.”
Under former president Donald Trump, the DoJ filed 18 charges against Assange relating to the 2010 release by WikiLeaks of 500,000 secret files detailing aspects of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The US claims he helped intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal the 2010 documents before exposing confidential sources around the world, behaving in a reckless way well beyond normal journalistic practice.
He faces a possible 175-year sentence if convicted but Assange and his lawyers have long argued the case against him is politically motivated.
However, revelations that Assange had sought to coordinate with Trump’s campaign team in 2016 have not endeared him to Biden’s Democrats in Washington, after WikiLeaks also leaked internal party emails that helped tip that year’s election to the Republican.
In 2010, when he was vice president, Biden called Assange a “high tech terrorist” who had put lives at risk.
Last month, a London judge refused to grant a US request for Assange’s extradition but then refused him bail, pending any DoJ appeal against her verdict.
The 49-year-old Australian has been held at a high-security prison since he was convicted in 2019 for skipping bail, following his forcible removal from Ecuador’s embassy in London where he had sheltered for seven years.