Feb 13, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden administration signals it will continue effort to prosecute Julian Assange

Julian Assange leaving a London court in May 2019.
Julian Assange leaving a London court in May 2019. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

The Biden administration has indicated that it will continue to press for the extradition of Julian Assange from the United Kingdom and prosecute the WikiLeaks founder in the United States, according to the New York Times.

Driving the news: The Justice Department filed a brief on Thursday asking a British court to overturn a ruling that blocked Assange's extradition to the U.S., as human rights and civil liberties groups urged acting attorney general Monty Wilkinson to abandon the prosecution.

Context: A British court judge blocked Assange's extradition in January because of the high risk of suicide in U.S. custody.

  • Assange faces up to 175 years in prison if he is sent to the U.S. and found guilty of all 18 counts in the indictment filed against him.

Why it matters: Human rights and civil liberties groups argued to Wilkinson that the case the Trump administration brought against Assange could establish a precedent that would threaten press freedoms.

  • The case has raised significant questions about First Amendment protections for publishers of classified information. Assange says he was acting as a journalist when he published leaked documents on U.S. actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • The U.S. government has argued he should not be protected under press freedoms, saying in court that his actions went beyond the work of journalism.

What they're saying: “Journalists have no constitutional right to break into a government office, or hack into a government computer, or bribe a government employee, to get information,” President Biden said in a written statement to the Times in 2019.

  • “We should be hesitant to prosecute a journalist who has done nothing more than receive and publish confidential information and has not otherwise broken the law.”
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