On 13 June, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid signed a request by the United States to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has been indicted in the US on 18 charges related to illegally obtaining, receiving, and disclosing classified information. The US case focuses on Assange’s role in the leak of thousands of classified State Department and military documents by former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. RSF has expressed deep concern over the implications of the case for the future of national security reporting in the US, pointing to frequent use of the Espionage Act against journalistic sources. Assange faces up to 10 years in prison for each count of violating the Espionage Act.
“We are extremely disappointed by Sajid Javid’s decision to sign the extradition request, effectively enabling the US government’s persecution of Julian Assange for his journalistic-like activities. This move has very worrying implications for the protection of journalistic sources, and contrasts sharply with the UK government’s stated priority focus on media freedom through the FCO’s global media freedom campaign”, said RSF UK Bureau Director Rebecca Vincent.
RSF has called on the UK government to prioritise the principles of freedom of expression and protection of the role of journalism, including journalistic sources, in their treatment of Assange, who is serving a 50-week prison sentence in the UK for breaking bail in 2012. Assange is next due to appear before the Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 14 June, after reportedly being too ill to appear at his last hearing on 30 May.
After visiting Assange in prison on 9 May, on 31 May, UN special rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer expressed serious concern for Assange’s health, stating that Assange “has been deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture”, adding that he seriously deplored “the consistent failure of all involved governments to take measures for the protection of his most fundamental human rights and dignity”.
The UK and US are respectively ranked 33rd and 48th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.