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Assange’s extradition sets a dangerous precedent for the Freedom of Press

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  • 5 min read

Photo: John Gomez /

It has been over a decade since Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s fight against the so-called champion of democracy and the freedom of speech — The United States — bid to extradite him on charges of espionage after Wikileaks published troves of documents revealing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 52-year-old journalist and activist Assange has been awarded 50 weeks in prison in Belmarsh, UK, after the Ecuadorian government withdrew his asylum status in 2019.

Currently, Assange’s trial is being conducted in a London court where the US lawyers’ are trying hard to convince the judges to extradite him to the US. Julian Assange has skipped the hearing due to his declining health. His lawyers argued that their client was being charged for no fault of his bid was politically motivated and that the only crime committed by Assange was to engage in “journalistic practice of obtaining and publishing classified information — information that is both true and of obvious and important public interest.”

The lawyers also submitted a written affidavit confirming that the United States was “US was prepared to go to any lengths, including misusing its criminal justice system, to sustain impunity for US officials in respect of the torture/war crimes committed in its infamous ‘war on terror’, and to suppress those actors and courts willing and prepared to try to bring those crimes to account.”

Here’s a short timeline of the whole Julian Assange saga:

  • 2006: Assange founded Wikileaks in Australia.
  • 2010: Wikileaks began publishing troves of secret documents revealing some gruesome details about the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    • August 2010: Assange was accused of rape and molestation by two women, and the Swedish court released an arrest warrant for him. The charges were later dropped due to lack of proper evidence.
    • September 2010: Sweden again reopened the investigation, and Assange fled to the UK.
    • December 2010: Assange surrenders in London and gets bail.
  • 2011: A court in Britain orders Assange’s extradition to Sweden.
  • 2012: Assange flees to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he was granted political asylum.
  • 2014: Assange’s lawyers tried to cancel the arrest warrant in Sweden but failed.
  • 2015: Sweden drops some allegations against Assange, although the rape investigation was kept on.
  • 2016: A UN Working Group finds that Assange’s detention is unwarranted and uncalled for.
  • 2019: Ecuador withdraws the asylum status of Assange, and the London police get into action. He got a 50-week prison sentence for breaching bail conditions in 2012.
    • May 2019: The United States entered into the fray, framing 18 charges on Assange and alleging a conspiracy involving Assange and Chelsea Manning’s hack operation into a Pentagon computer and the subsequent release of diplomatic cables.
    • November 2019: Sweden drops the rape investigation.
  • January 2021: A UK court ruled that Assange cannot be extradited to the US due to his mental health.
    • December 2021: The UK High Court rules favour extradition on the condition that the US would treat him humanely.
  • March 2022: The UK denies Assange permission to appeal against the decision.
    • June 2022: The UK government orders the extradition.
  • 2024: Assange’s legal team launches a final bid to prevent the extradition.

What does extradition mean for the freedom of the press?

The decision of this trial will have significant concerns for the freedom of the press in the world. If Assange is extradited, it would set a precedent for other media and publishing organisations, discouraging them from publishing incriminating information about their governments — information that the public should know to question the governments; the truth.

The case will act as a litmus test for similar cases that are happening or are likely to happen in the future.

The trial will also balance the two notions of national security and freedom of the press and expression. Also, the vague nature of the allegations by the United States showcases the true face of the champion of democracy.

According to the government’s indictment, Julian Assange “encouraged sources to (i) circumvent legal safeguards on information; (ii) provide that protected information to WikiLeaks for public dissemination; and (iii) continue the pattern of illegally procuring and providing protected information to WikiLeaks for distribution to the public.”

These charges sound like something to be concerned about. Still, in reality, this is what the journalists do every day — talk to government officials, persuade them to share the information and finally publish the relevant details for the public to know.

It is also interesting to see how much the Republicans and Democrats are close on this matter. During the time of President Obama, the administration did mostly nothing but criticise him publically. But things took a change during Trump’s time. During this time, the US engaged in the prosecution of Assange. The current Biden administration is continuing the process.

Jodie Ginsberg, the CEO of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said, “The prosecution of Assange would have disastrous implications for press freedom both in the US and globally.” This sentiment is echoed by various other experts who see this trial as a state’s way of undermining the press.

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Kumar Hemant

Kumar Hemant

Deputy Editor at Candid.Technology. Hemant writes at the intersection of tech and culture and has a keen interest in science, social issues and international relations. You can contact him here: