President Biden was asked by a group of British parliamentarians Friday to end his administration’s hunt for WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, who remains jailed in London pending a U.S. extradition request.
A cross-party group of 24 parliamentarians made the request in an open letter to Mr. Biden that was issued as he met with British officials while visiting the U.K. during his first trip abroad in office.
Mr. Assange, an Australian, is wanted by the U.S. Department of Justice for charges related to running the WikiLeaks site, including soliciting, receiving, and publishing classified government material.
WikiLeaks first embarrassed U.S. authorities during the Obama administration, when Mr. Biden was vice president, by releasing thousands of documents originating from the Departments of Defense and State.
Mr. Assange was subsequently charged with related crimes in 2019, when former President Trump was in the White House, and has been jailed in a high-security prison in London for over two years as a result.
In January, before Mr. Trump left office, a U.K. judge ruled against extraditing Mr. Assange to the U.S., where he risks decades behind bars. The Biden administration has appealed that decision, however.
“The effect of your predecessor’s decision to take a criminal case against a member of the press working in our country is to restrict the scope of permissible press activities here, and set a precedent that others will no doubt exploit,” the parliamentarians wrote in the letter to Mr. Biden.
The letter, led by Richard Burgon, a member of the Labour Party, said the case against Mr. Assange weakens the right to publish information that governments find uncomfortable and undermines public confidence in legal systems in the U.S. and U.K.
“Our countries are also increasingly confronted with the contradiction of advocating for press freedom abroad while holding Mr. Assange for years in the U.K.’s most notorious prison at the request of the U.S. government,” the letter concluded. “We appeal to you to drop this prosecution, an act that would be a clarion call for freedom that would echo around the globe.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a message requesting comment sent over the weekend. Jen Psaki, Mr. Biden‘s press secretary, answered a question last month about the possibility of the president calling off the prosecution by stressing the Justice Department functions independently from the White House.
Mr. Assange faces violations of the U.S. Espionage Act for WikiLeaks having published material including diplomatic cables, detailed accounting of U.S. military activities overseas and information on detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. He and his supporters maintain he acted as a journalist while the Justice Department vehemently disagrees.
Among the more prominent of the parliamentarians who signed the letter are former opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and his former shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, both of the Labour Party, among others.