Journalism is on trial and the silence is deafening
By: Danielle Pybus
One of the most decisive cases in the history of journalism and press freedom is currently underway. The mainstream media’s response? Crickets.
Julian Assange, Australian journalist and founder of WikiLeaks, is currently being held at Belmarsh Prison in the U.K. and has been in custody since April 2019. Indicted on 17 charges under the U.S. 1917 Espionage Act and one charge of computer hacking, Assange is facing an extradition trial that will not only decide his fate — up to 175 years in prison if extradited — but the fate of journalism as a whole.
Assange is being tried for his publication of classified documents, which exposed U.S. war crimes committed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay. These include graphic footage from the July 12, 2007, Baghdad airstrike, in which innocent, unarmed civilians and Iraqi journalists were fired at by a U.S. Apache helicopter. This would be the first time in American history that publishing information is charged under the Espionage Act.
His extradition trial is based on the claim that the leaking of these documents endangered the lives of American agents and informants, which is completely unfounded. The Pentagon deployed over a hundred counter-intelligence officers in hopes of discovering deaths that could be linked to Assange and WikiLeaks, but not a single one surfaced.
Assange’s lawyers argue that the case is politically motivated and is part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “attack on journalism”. What is for certain is that the outcome of this trial could set a very dangerous precedent. Assange’s indictment is an attempt to criminalize journalism, and the ramifications will be felt by journalists across the globe.
The extradition of Assange would mean the garnering of more power for the U.S. over international press freedom. Former CIA Director Mark Pompeo delivered a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in 2017, in which he stated that “Julian Assange and his kind have pretended that America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice. They may have believed that, but they are wrong.”
Under article 4 of the U.S.-U.K. Extradition Treaty, it is stated that “extradition shall not be granted if the offence for which extradition is requested is a political offence.” There are two types of political offences — purely political offences and relative political offences — and espionage falls under the latter.
The extradition ruling — to be delivered on Jan. 4 — could set the precedent that those who publish any important documents deemed classified or confidential by the U.S. government would face the same fate as Assange.
The role of a journalist is to publish factual information, and whistleblowers are essential in ensuring that governments are held accountable for their wrongdoings. As prosecuted American whistleblower Edward Snowden put it, “when exposing a crime is treated as committing a crime, you are being ruled by criminals.”
Assange’s lawyers also argue that his mental and physical health are in peril due to poor prison conditions and prolonged periods of solitary confinement, which would only be exacerbated if he was extradited and transferred to a U.S. prison, which they claim violates British human rights laws.
Mainstream media is largely downplaying the severity of the implications of this case, and it is independent journalists who have been making noise about this blatant attack on press freedom since the very beginning.
*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.
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