Julian Assange has been hit with 17 new charges by the United States, the U.S. regime accusing the Wikileaks founder of breaching the Espionage Act. Each of the listed charges carries a potential ten-year jail term, meaning that a whole life sentence is now likely should Assange be extradited to U.S. soil.
The new charges present one of the most heinous assaults on press freedom and the United States’ own constitution ever seen by a U.S. regime, with critics contending that they serve as a death knell for journalistic freedom to expose U.S. crimes around the world.
Adding to the initial charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, Assange has now been charged with conspiracy to receive national defence information, seven counts of obtaining national defence information and nine counts of disclosing national defence information.
Barry Pollock, a member of Assange’s legal team, says that the espionage charge “demonstrates the gravity of the threat the criminal prosecution of Julian Assange poses to all journalists in their endeavour to inform the public about actions taken by the US government.”
Supports of Assange have long contended that the U.S. was not finished with laying out charges against Assange and that the American establishment wished to make an example of the Wikileaks founder for having the temerity to challenge U.S. hegemony. Senior American figures have called for everything from extrajudicial killing to the death penalty for Assange.
“With the indictment, the ‘leader of the free world’ dismisses the First Amendment – hailed as a model of press freedom around the world – and launches a blatant extraterritorial assault outside its border, attacking basic principles of democracy in Europe and the rest of the world.”Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief
Speaking in what appears to be a promo for Brian Kilmeade’s radio show in 2010, Donald Trump was asked about Assange and stated that Wikileaks’actions had been “disgraceful” and “there should be the death penalty of something” for their actions.
Speaking on Fox News in 2010, former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said that Julian Assange was a “terrorist”, “should be treated as an enemy combatant” and that Wikileaks should be “closed down permanently”. Others in the Republican Party that have described Assange as a “terrorist” include Mitch McConnell, Candice Miller and many others.
“Who ever in our government leaked that information is guilty of treason and I think anything less than execution too kind a penalty. They put Americans lives at risk. They’ve put relationships that will take decades to rebuild at risk, and they knew full well that they were handling sensitive documents.”Mike Huckabee, 2010
Prominent Republican figures in the U.S. media such as Bob Beckel, Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh have been calling for the death of Assange for some time, with O’Reilly making references to hanging Assange and Limbaugh suggesting “a bullet in the brain”.
The new charges against Julian Assange have been widely condemned, with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press saying that the new charges posed a “dire threat” to press freedoms, the Freedom of the Press Foundation describing them as “terrifying”.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has already declared that Assange’s sentence for breaching his bail conditions in the United Kingdom is “disproportionate” and stated that they are “concerned” over the situation, stating that they are concerned that his “treatment appears to contravene the principles of necessity and proportionality envisaged by human rights standards.”
Beyond the United Nations, Julian Assange’s mother Christine has raised the alarm about the ongoing treatment of her son, notably the lack of access to medical care and access to face-to-face meetings with his lawyer as he attempts to mount a defence prior to the moves for extradition.
The indictment against Assange is no longer about support or opposition to Julian Assange’s work. It is no longer about the Afghan and Iraq logs, nor about the DNC leak, this is now the most dangerous assault on the freedom of the press and free speech of our times.
If Assange is allowed to be jailed by the American regime then nothing stops any other state bringing charges against publishers the world over. Today it is Assange, tomorrow it could be any publisher, journalist or even regular citizen who is critical of the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia or any other oppressive and criminal state.
The mainstream media must defend their own rights and understand very quickly that their kowtowing to the establishment is no longer an acceptable position in the face of outright authoritarianism. While we can only hope that the MSM realise the urgency and significance of the situation, the disgusting treatment of Assange thus far by outlets such as The Guardian suggests any real challenge to the establishment is unlikely.
The onus now falls on the independent media, supporters across social media and press freedom and human rights activists across the world to oppose these charges and the potential for extradition to the fullest of their ability. The future of the media itself depends on it.