We, the undersigned PEN Centres, strongly condemn the decision of the UK Home Secretary to approve the extradition of Wikileaks founder and publisher Julian Assange to the US, where he faces up to 175 years in prison for his role in obtaining and publishing classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010.
Our organisations have repeatedly stressed that Julian 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 worldwide. The state’s desire to keep matters secret does not automatically override the public’s right to know, particularly where there is strong evidence of human rights violations or corruption.
The UK Home Secretary’s decision to approve the extradition of Julian Assange contradicts the UK’s stated commitment to protect media freedom globally. So does the fact that he has been held in remand for over three years at London’s high-security Belmarsh prison, despite the great risks posed to his mental health and physical well-being. The UN Special Rapporteur on torture has repeatedly raised concerns about Assange’s health during his detention in Belmarsh prison. Furthermore, he has made clear that he considers that both the detention conditions in the US and the sentence likely to be imposed on Assange present a real risk of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Julian Assange has 14 days to appeal. As his legal team continues to fight against his extradition, we urge the UK authorities to release him from Belmarsh prison immediately, so he can be reunited with his family at long last.
We once again call on the US authorities to drop all charges against Julian Assange. Espionage laws should not be used against journalists and publishers for disclosing information of public interest.
PEN Suisse Romand
Swiss-German PEN Center
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.
Assange is the first publisher to be charged under the Espionage Act. He is an honorary member of German PEN, PEN Melbourne, and PEN Slovenia.
For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: Aurelia.firstname.lastname@example.org