January 11, 2021
The 10-year campaign by the US government to criminalise reporting critical of its actions has failed in rather peculiar circumstances, with the unexpected decision by the court in London to reject the US demand for Julian Assange‘s extradition.
Judge Vanessa Baraitser gave as the reason for her decision Assange’s mental health and possible suicide risk, not freedom of expression or evidence of a politically inspired persecution by the Trump administration. If the judge is correct, this must be one of the very few non-political actions of the Trump era in the US.
Assange stays for the moment in the high-security Belmarsh Prison, as the US is likely to appeal against the verdict, but he can make a fresh application for bail.
Had the US succeeded in extraditing Assange to face 17 charges under the Espionage Act of 1917, and one charge of computer-hacking, he could have been sentenced to 175 years in prison. His conviction would have had a devastating effect on freedom of the press, because what he was accused of doing is what every journalist and news outlet does or ought to do: find out significant information, which may or may not be labelled secret by self-interested governments, and pass it on to the public so they can reach evidence-based judgments on the world in which they live.
I followed the extradition hearings day-by-day last September, and there was nothing that Assange and WikiLeaks disclosed that I and any other decent reporter would not have revealed.
It is a little too early to say whether the Assange saga, which began when WikiLeaks published a great trove of US government documents in 2010 giving an unprecedented insight into US political, military and diplomatic affairs, is finally over.