- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2017

A British tribunal has labeled WikiLeaks a “media organization,” potentially complicating any effort by U.S. authorities to extradite its publisher, Julian Assange, in connection with releasing hundreds of thousands of sensitive military and government documents.

WikiLeaks is a media organization which publishes and comments upon censored or restricted official materials involving war, surveillance or corruption, which are leaked to it in a variety of different circumstances,” the London First-tier Tribunal declared in a ruling published Thursday by Italy’s la Repubblica newspaper.

Weeks after being lumped together with al Qaeda and the Islamic State terror group by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, the tribunal’s ruling could complicate matters for U.S. authorities hoping to get their hands on Mr. Assange once and for all following his publication of State and Defense Department documents, among other materials, according to the WikiLeaks chief.

WikiLeaks just recognised as a ‘media organisation’ by UK tribunal making it harder to extradite me to the US,” Mr. Assange, 46, tweeted Thursday.

The Department of Justice began investigating WikiLeaks, Mr. Assange and other individuals affiliated with his website after they began publishing classified material in 2010 concerning matters ranging from the Pentagon’s activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, to previously secret documents describing individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay. More recently the website released internal Democratic Party documents during the midst of the 2016 U.S. presidential race, indisputably disrupting the campaign of former White House hopeful Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Assange entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden over matters unrelated to WikiLeaks, and he received political asylum from Quito that same year. He’s remained confined to the embassy ever since, however, because he fears he’ll be apprehended by British authorities if he exits and ultimately sent to the U.S. to be charged for publishing state secrets.

The U.S., U.K. and Sweden have repeatedly refused to publicly discuss matters surrounding Mr. Assange’s extradition, and United Nations working group has categorized Mr. Assange’s living situation as “arbitrary detention” in violation of international norms.

Stefania Maurizi, a journalist for la Repubblica, filed document requests in London and Stockholm seeking information concerning discussions between either with respect to Mr. Assange. The First-tier Tribunal dismissed the newspaper journalist’s request for access to the U.K. Crown Prosecution Service’s full set of documents, but acknowledged the serious issues raised by the situation surrounding WikiLeaks and its publisher, according to the ruling released Thursday.

“So far as the evidence before us goes, Mr. Assange is the only media publisher and free speech advocate in the Western world who is in a situation that a U.N. body has characters as arbitrary detention,” the tribunal wrote. “It is a matter of public controversy how this situation should be understand. The circumstances of his case arguably raise issues about human rights and Press freedom, which are the subject of legitimate public debate. Such debate may even help to resolve them, which would itself be a public benefit.”

The Justice Department declined to comment on possible efforts to extradite Mr. Assange when reached Thursday by The Washington Times.

“If such a request were made, the U.K. would not be assisting the U.S. to extradite a narco, a mafia boss, or a drug kingpin. It would being assisting the U.S. to extradite a media publisher to prosecute him and his media organization for their publications,” Ms. Maurizi said.

President Trump praised WikiLeaks on the campaign trail for releasing emails damaging to his Democratic rival, Mrs. Clinton, but his administration has since taken a drastically different stance on the website. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in April that arresting Mr. Assange was a priority, and Mr. Pompeo recently called WikiLeaks a “non-state” actor in the same category as Hezbollah, al Qaeda and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

WikiLeaks will take down America any way they can and find any willing partner to achieve that end,” the CIA director said previously.

The website’s publications have nonetheless earned Mr. Assange praise abroad, however. In 2011 he received both the U.K.’s Martha Gellhorn prize for journalism and Australia’s Walkey Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism, among other accolades.

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