Committee to Protect Journalists: Letter to the U.S. Justice Department Regarding Julian Assange, May 17, 2024

The Committee to Protect Journalists

United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20530
Sent via email
May 17, 2024

Dear Attorney General Garland,

We, the undersigned coalition of press freedom, civil liberties, and
international human rights organizations, write to express acute concern about
the Justice Department’s ongoing criminal and extradition proceedings
relating to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, under the Espionage
Act and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Since we last wrote over a year ago, Assange’s appeals process has continued
to play out in a British court, which will decide on May 20 if he is allowed to
appeal his case.

If his appeal is denied on May 20, he will either be extradited to the United
States, or apply to the European Court of Human Rights. If his May 20 appeal
is accepted, his case will continue to play out in British courts.

Furthermore, the recent U.S. assurances that Assange will be allowed to ‘rely
upon’ the First Amendment do not adequately address the First Amendment
concerns we have previously raised. It ignores the fact that the charges
themselves directly challenge his First Amendment rights, and the right to
freedom of expression under international human rights law. This would
create an alarming legal precedent for the extradition of journalists to the U.S.
for publishing classified material in the public interest.

However, this entire legal process could and should be swiftly ended if the
Justice Department were to drop the charges, which we firmly believe
undermine freedom of the press both domestically and internationally.
The prosecution of Assange in the United States would create legal pathways
under the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that would
allow for the prosecution of journalists who are simply doing their jobs and
covering matters of public interest.

President Biden has emphasized the importance of a free press in American
democracy and around the world. In early April, the president stated that the
U.S. is “considering” a request by the Australian government to return
Assange, an Australian citizen, to his home country. We welcome the
possibility that the Espionage Act and CFAA would not be used against
Assange, thus avoiding the creation of a harmful legal precedent. However, a
possibility is not enough. A decision is urgently needed.

As we have previously noted, the Obama administration declined to press
charges against Assange, citing the “New York Times problem,” meaning if
they prosecuted Assange for his work, it would create a legal argument for
prosecuting journalists.

The Trump administration, which made clear its feelings toward press
freedom, reversed this decision and decided to indict Assange. It is now time
for your Justice Department to reset the course of freedom of the press by
dropping the charges against Assange.

The Committee to Protect Journalists

American Civil Liberties Union
Amnesty International
The Coalition For Women In Journalism
Defending Rights & Dissent
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Fight for the Future
First Amendment Coalition
Freedom of the Press Foundation
Index on Censorship
Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University
Partnership for Civil Justice Fund
PEN America
Whistleblower and Source Protection Program (WHISPeR) at ExposeFacts