News Release

Assange Arrest: “Nuclear Option” Against the First Amendment?

Consortium News notes in “Moreno Withdraws Asylum as Assange is Arrested” that Jen Robinson, a lawyer for Assange tweeted: “Just confirmed: Assange has been arrested not just for breach of bail conditions but also in relation to a U.S. extradition request.”

Edward Snowden tweeted: “Important background for journalists covering the arrest of Julian Assange by Ecuador: the United Nations formally ruled his detention to be arbitrary, a violation of human rights. They have repeatedly issued statements calling for him to walk free — including very recently.”

Last month, Chelsea Manning was jailed by the U.S. government for refusing to comply with a subpoena to testify in front of a grand jury believed to be investigating WikiLeaks’s publishing activities. Manning had revealed information that WikiLeaks made public, including the “Collateral Murder” video, which showed U.S. soldiers killing civilians, including media personnel, in Iraq: collateralmurder.wikileaks.org.

Floyd Abrams, author of The Soul of the First Amendment, has litigated a host of critical First Amendment cases. He provided the Institute for Public Accuracy with a statement responding to Attorney General William Barr’s remarks during his confirmation hearings: “It’s one thing to say that there could be circumstances in which a journalist’s need to protect her sources could lead to a potential finding of contempt of court if she refused to obey a court order requiring such disclosure. But the notion that a journalist could properly be jailed for publishing material that the government thinks could ‘hurt the country’ is something else entirely and would be deeply threatening to First Amendment norms in general and journalistic freedom in particular.”

ExposeFacts, a project of IPA, released a statement by Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg in 2017 warning: “Obama having opened the legal campaign against the press by going after the roots of investigative reporting on national security — the sources — Trump is going to go after the gatherers/gardeners themselves (and their bosses, publishers). To switch the metaphor, an indictment of Assange is a ‘first use’ of ‘the nuclear option’ against the First Amendment protection of a free press. (By the way, the charges they’re reportedly considering against him — conspiracy, theft, and violation of the Espionage Act — are exactly the charges I faced in 1971.)

“If journalists and publishers fail to call this out, denounce and resist it — on the spurious grounds that Julian is ‘not a real journalist’ like themselves — they’re offering themselves up to Trump … for indictments and prosecutions, which will eventually silence all but the heroes and heroines among them.”

JOE EMERSBERGER, jemersberger at aol.com@rosendo_joe
Emersberger wrote the piece “Assange Case Shows Support for Free Speech Depends on Who’s Talking” for the media watch group FAIR: “The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded in February 2016 that the governments of the UK and Sweden had forced WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange into a condition of arbitrary detention in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been since 2012. The group’s press release stated: ‘The expert panel called on the Swedish and British authorities to end Mr. Assange’s deprivation of liberty, respect his physical integrity and freedom of movement, and afford him the right to compensation.’

“Assange has never been charged with a crime in Sweden. At the secret urging of the UK government, Sweden refused for several years to question Assange in London regarding sexual assault allegations. That kept the case in ‘preliminary investigation’ limbo, while Sweden also refused to guarantee that Assange would not be extradited to the United States, where he is likely to face prosecution for his work as a publisher.”

Emersberger notes that a year ago “Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno made the conditions of Assange’s arbitrary detention much worse. … Moreno won the presidency in 2017 by running as a staunch Correa [the pervious president who gave Assange asylum at the Ecuadoran embassy in London] loyalist. Immediately after taking office, Moreno shifted dramatically to the right, disavowed the longstanding ties to Correa that he used to get elected, and, crucially, ensured that public media no longer provided a counterweight to Ecuador’s right-wing private media that always attacked Correa.”