The Committee to Protect Journalists, a non-profit dedicated to promoting press freedom, came out Friday against efforts by the U.S. to extradite WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange.
Robert Mahoney, the CPJ’s deputy director, took issue with the Trump administration’s pursuit of the jailed WikiLeaks founder ahead of his extradition trial starting Monday in London.
“The extradition of Julian Assange to the United States to stand trial for his groundbreaking work with WikiLeaks would deal a body blow to First Amendment rights and press freedom. The U.K. should deny this request,” Mr. Mahoney said in a statement.
Mr. Assange, a 48-year-old Australian, has been jailed in the U.K. since April after being arrested inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he had lived for roughly seven years.
He has been charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with 18 criminal counts related to running the WikiLeaks website, including mostly violations of the Espionage Act of 1917, and faces a maximum sentence of more than 175 years in prison if extradited abroad and found guilty of all charges.
Passed into law during World War I, the Espionage Act has been invoked several times in recent years to bring charges against persons accused of leaking classified information.
Never until now has an individual been prosecuted under the statute for publishing U.S. state secrets, however.
“Using the draconian wartime powers of the Espionage Act against Assange undermines journalists’ rights and sets dangerous precedents that cast journalists and publishers as criminals,” Mr. Mahoney said in the statement.
Mr. Assange is accused of violating the Espionage Act by receiving and publishing classified information provided nearly a decade earlier by Chelsea Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst, including troves of classified U.S. Department of State diplomatic cables and detailed accounting of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, among other material.
He has argued he acted as a journalist, contrary to federal prosecutors insisting otherwise.
Launched in 1981, the New York-based CPJ has advocated for decades on behalf of members of the media facing challenges resulting from their reporting. Joel Simon, a journalist and author, has served as CPJ’s executive director since 2006, and the group’s board of directors is currently chaired by Kathleen Carroll, the former executive editor and senior vice president of The Associated Press.
British human rights organization ARTICLE 19 and the human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe separately issued statements this week opposing Mr. Assange’s extradition, meanwhile.