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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/5/19

Julian Assange: An Opportunity for the US and the UK to Change Direction on Press Freedom

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May 3 was World Press Freedom Day. The annual observance usually focuses on the World Press Freedom Index published each year by Reporters without Borders. Break out the champagne! The United States ranked 48th of 179 countries this year, falling three places from 2018.

A day earlier, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared in court in London (the United Kingdom ranked 33rd on the Index this year) to contest his proposed extradition to the United States. He faces spurious US "hacking" charges framed to avoid taking official notice of the indisputable fact that his actual "crimes" consist entirely of engaging in journalism.

Not a good World Press Freedom Day look for the UK or the US. But the plodding pace of the UK's judicial system -- his next hearing comes at the end of May, a second one is scheduled for mid-June, and the matter may drag on for months -- offers an opportunity to turn things around and get them moving in the right direction.

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Reporters Without Borders postures as politically neutral, but their current ranking of the US is largely based not on a deterioration in actual press freedom, but rather on US president Donald Trump's big mouth. He says mean things -- some true, some false, some downright stupid -- about the media.

Trump could redeem himself on the press freedom front, essentially wiping the slate clean, by pardoning Assange for all alleged "crimes" committed prior to May 1st, 2019.

Even better, he could publicly justify the pardon, pointing out that this is solely and entirely a political prosecution premised in the notion that it's a "crime" to embarrass politicians by revealing verifiably true information about their actions.

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Alternatively, US Justice Department prosecutors could save him the trouble by just dropping the charges and withdrawing the extradition request.

A pardon and public statement from Trump would be better, though, both for press freedom and as red meat for his own political base. After all, the American politician most frequently and badly embarrassed by Assange's work is Trump's own bete noire, Hillary Clinton. The WikiLeaks "Cablegate" dump exposed her plan to have US diplomats bug the offices of their UN counterparts. Then WikiLeaks doubled down and outed her for the DNC's rigging of the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

Failing both of those perfectly reasonable courses of action on the US government's part, the UK courts could find a reason to free Assange (currently serving 50 weeks for jumping bail on charges that were non-existent rather than merely spurious) instead of handing him over.

Whatever just pick one and make it happen, guys. The most important outcome here is a free Julian Assange. The bonus material would be explaining why: He's a political prisoner and journalism is not a crime.

 

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Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


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4 people are discussing this page, with 11 comments


Jim Glover

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Yes Thomas, I like your optimistic view. He may not be extradited and hacking is the only thing that he could possibly be found guilty of which he could get a light sentence or "time served" which would be better than the last years of supposed asylum in the embassy where he was a virtual prisoner lacking proper medical care or Freedom of Speech.

For this reason I feel he won't be tried in the US because the US does not want to know all the things Julian knows about the DNC leaks because it will be evidence the government's Intelligence agencies and Politicians have lied again.

Submitted on Sunday, May 5, 2019 at 3:44:37 PM

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lila york

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The trial, if it occurs, will be in secret. Assange would never be permitted to mount a defense or to speak publicly. or they might slit his larynx as they did with the Boston marathon suspect. or simply assassinate him while in custody.

Submitted on Sunday, May 5, 2019 at 6:19:26 PM

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There's also this detail that keeps getting conveniently ignored by Julian's persecutors - he's not a citizen of the U.S., nor was he operating in the U.S.

The American's have no actual legal claim to this man. The only thing that MIGHT change that would be the existence of charges under the Espionage Act (which the U.S. is not admitting to).

The only "claim" the Brits had was the "bail charge", which should have been blown away when the Swedes failed to charge him for anything. So, the Swedes couldn't make a claim on him at that point.

50 weeks for skipping a bail charge, where no charges have been laid, is a complete abuse of power. This measure was only used to hold Julian in Britain as long as possible, while the Americans "build their case".

The sentence also serves to hold Chelsea Manning in limbo, and extend her incarceration, in order to wear her down further.

The trouble with "international" law is, there doesn't seem to be international ENFORCEMENT of it.

The only ones who would have any claim to Assange (the Australian government) have no charges to declare, and have remained criminally silent.

Submitted on Sunday, May 5, 2019 at 5:11:50 PM

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lila york

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There is a growing movement in Australia to bring him home. Let's hope it grows to numbers large enough to influence the government.

Submitted on Sunday, May 5, 2019 at 6:23:18 PM

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So many governments claiming to be "democratic", yet the people they're supposed to be listening to are always left outside to plead to the wind.

When governments collude on something like this, there is no desire to listen, as the "deal" has already been made. The only thing that would change the situation would be a change in leadership to one that isn't in bed with the thugs.

If Corbyn were to end up as the PM, I wonder if that would change Julian's fate from the Brits end.

Submitted on Sunday, May 5, 2019 at 6:33:39 PM

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lila york

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I found it interesting - and pathetic - that the only nations remaining with press freedom are Finland, Norway, Denmark,, Iceland, The Netherlands, and Costa Rica. That might mean that a journalist would not be extradited to the US from those countries for publishing true information about the US government and its entities - or not. We don't know, since Assange did not choose one of them to travel to once he left Sweden.

Submitted on Sunday, May 5, 2019 at 5:38:00 PM

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I think Julian was just working with a small window of opportunity at that time. He knew something was afoot, and had been talking to Correa about it. Correa, who seems to be more of a "Bolivarian revolutionary" type and a much fairer man than his successor, made a well-intentioned offer.

When Correa was able to make Assange an Ecuadorian citizen, I thought the problem was well on the way to getting solved. Little did I know all international law could just be thrown under the bus, while the whole world just watched and did nothing.

Even Sweden had a better moral compass not long ago than they showed here. Somehow, the U.S. just gets its hooks into everybody, with threats and whatnot. I'm not sure if things would have worked out differently had he found refuge in, say, a place like Norway.

There's nothing more unsettling for a peaceful country than to be threatened with some form of chaos, financial or otherwise.

Submitted on Sunday, May 5, 2019 at 6:50:47 PM

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At what point does the rest of the world say 'enough? No more." Is there a point?

Submitted on Sunday, May 5, 2019 at 7:22:34 PM

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Apparently not. :(

Submitted on Sunday, May 5, 2019 at 7:26:32 PM

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Since the US now has active sanctions, embargoes and/or threats of invasion against every nation on earth save Israel and Saudi Arabia, ( if we include threats to any nation trading with Iran, Syria or Venezuela) the UN would be the logical institution to oversee a global action. Failing that, there is little hope . We are witnessing in our lifetime the end of the world as we have known it, and the destruction of every liberty we have taken as eternal. Lord help us all.

Submitted on Sunday, May 5, 2019 at 7:40:40 PM

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It seems that TPTB wish us to consider it truth, my love.

Submitted on Sunday, May 5, 2019 at 8:30:31 PM

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