On Friday, the US Department of Justice won its appeal against a UK court ruling made in January regarding the extradition of Julian Assange to the US. The charge against him is espionage for allegedly leaking classified military documents and diplomatic cables back in 2010 and 2011.
The original UK court ruling against the extradition was based on concerns over Assange’s mental health. The UK court judges agreed to the US Department of Justice’s request based on their commitment to reducing the risk of suicide.
Assange’s fiancée has stated that they intend to appeal, calling the ruling a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
Julian Assange’s Alleged Crime
The US Department of Justice has charged Assange with 18 counts of espionage for allegedly obtaining and publishing thousands of classified government documents in 2010 and 2011. The U.S. authorities have charged him based on their argument that these actions endangered Americans.
Part of the 18-count indictment accuses Assange of conspiring to hack US military databases in an effort to gain access to classified information on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. That information was published on the website that Assange founded, Wikileaks.org.
The case against Assange revolves around his publication of classified files in 2010 that were actually leaked by a former Army intelligence analyst. It does not involve the publication of Democratic emails stolen by Russia during the 2016 election.
If convicted of the 18 counts, Assange could receive up to 175 years in prison. However, the sentence is more likely to be six years or less, according to a US statement.
The Long Road to Assange’s Arrest
In 2012, Assange was under investigation for allegedly committing sexual assault in Sweden. During this investigation, he ran to the Ecuadorean embassy in London for asylum. The allegations at the heart of the investigation were eventually dropped. He also fought extradition in this case, stating he feared that his human rights would be violated if extradited.
He stayed in the embassy until he was expelled in 2019. On the same day, the United States began to pursue an indictment against him on hacking charges. A few weeks later, the US Department of Justice used the Espionage Act to charge Assange based on the accusation that he had obtained and published thousands of classified government documents in 2010 and 2011. Assange was then arrested by British authorities due to charges of bail-skipping and the U.S. extradition warrant.
Since his arrest, Assange has been held in London’s Belmarsh prison.
The Effect on Media Freedom
Some journalists and publications are watching this case closely. There is fear that it could set a precedence that might impede journalists’ ability to report and share information with the public. Although hacking into a government network is not thought of as journalism, some of the other indictments against Assange are directly related.
The indictments regarding Assange publishing leaked information that he received from a source are at the heart of why so many believe this case affects media freedom. If Assange is found guilty of espionage for reporting this information, some believe this could open the door for governments to extradite and prosecute journalists under the disguise of national security.