On 11 April, Assange was arrested by Metropolitan Police officers at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, on a warrant issued by the Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 29 June 2012, for failing to surrender to the court. Assange had been living at the Ecuadorian embassy in London since that time, having successfully sought asylum after a British court approved his extradition request to Sweden in connection with a rape investigation that Sweden later dropped in 2017.
Assange had refused to leave the Ecuadorian embassy during that time out of fear that he could be extradited to Sweden and face charges in the United States in connection with Wikileaks’ publication of more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables in 2010.
“Targeting Assange after nearly nine years because of Wikileaks’ provision of information to journalists that was in the public interest (such as the leaked US diplomatic cables) would be a purely punitive measure and would set a dangerous precedent for journalists, whistleblowers, and other journalistic sources that the US may wish to pursue in the future. The UK must stick to a principled stance with any related requests from the US to extradite Assange, and ensure his protection under UK and European law relevant to his contributions to journalism”, said RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire.
RSF calls on the UK authorities to prioritise the principles of freedom of expression and protection of the role of journalism, including journalistic sources, in their treatment of Assange, in line with UK law and the UK’s international human rights obligations. As such, the UK should refrain from complying with requests to extradite Assange to the US that would aim at sanctioning his journalistic-like activities.
The UK and US are respectively ranked 40th and 45th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.