An international coalition of journalists, editors and publishers, on Wednesday (22/6), demanded that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange be immediately released from British prison, and that all charges against him be dropped.
Fifteen representatives of journalists’ and publishers’ unions and organizations from six countries gathered in Geneva to “call for the release of Julian Assange in the name of press freedom.”
The petitioners also ask Swiss authorities, who say they are working to protect Assange, to facilitate his release by offering him a safe haven in Switzerland from further prosecution.
The calls come after the British government last week approved Assange’s extradition to the United States, much to the chagrin of his supporters and free press activists.
Assange, who is now 50, said he would appeal the decision.
Assange was tried for violating the American Espionage Act after he published diplomatic and military documents in 2010. If convicted, he could face up to 175 years in prison.
Assange’s case has media freedom advocates accusing Washington of trying to suppress coverage of legitimate security issues.
Those who submitted Wednesday’s petition also denounced Britain’s decision as a “flagrant violation of human rights and a total contempt for press freedom.”
Pierre Ruetschi, head of the Swiss Press Club, which hosted the event, warned that “democracy is being held hostage” and “attempting to criminalize journalism is a serious threat.”
Tim Dawson of the National Union of Journalists of England and Ireland agreed with the petition. “If Julian Assange can be threatened with being a spy, what does that mean for other journalists?” he asked.
Assange has been held in a high-security prison in south-east London since 2019 having never appeared before court in a previous case in which he was accused of sexual assault in Switzerland.
Previously he spent seven years at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, in order not to be transferred to Sweden.
The Australian was arrested during a change of government in Ecuador and the diplomatic protection granted to him was revoked. [em/rs]