LONDON—The British High Court of Justice today opened a two-day hearing over whether Wikileaks founder Julian Assange can appeal an earlier court decision to extradite him to the United States to face charges under the 1917 Espionage Act. Assange’s case is the first in which the U.S. government has relied on the Espionage Act as the basis for the prosecution of a publisher.

The following can be attributed to Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. 

“It’s a terrible thing that this hearing is necessary. The U.S. Justice Department should never have charged Assange under the Espionage Act, because the indictment and prosecution of a publisher under this act poses a grave threat to press freedom. The question of whether Assange himself is a journalist is a red herring. The indictment focuses almost entirely on the kinds of activities that national security journalists engage in routinely and as a necessary part of their work—cultivating sources, communicating with them confidentially, soliciting information from them, protecting their identities from disclosure, and publishing classified information. A successful prosecution of Assange on the basis of this indictment would criminalize a great deal of the investigative journalism that is absolutely crucial to our democracy. The Justice Department should drop the Espionage Act charges, which should never have been filed in the first place.”

In 2020, Jaffer submitted expert testimony to the U.K. court about the press freedom implications of the Assange indictment. Read the testimony here.

For more information, contact: Adriana Lamirande, [email protected]