An international coalition of journalists, editors and publishers demanded Wednesday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange be immediately released from a UK jail and that all charges against him be dropped.
Fifteen representatives of journalist and publishers' unions and organizations from six countries gathered in Geneva for the ‘call to free Julian Assange in the name of press freedom’
The petitioners also called on Swiss authorities, who have said they have worked to protect Assange, to facilitate his release by offering him a safe haven from further prosecution in Switzerland.
The call came after the British government last week approved Assange's extradition to the United States, to the dismay of his supporters and free press campaigners.
Assange, 50, has said he will appeal against the decision.
He is wanted to face trial for violating the US Espionage Act by publishing military and diplomatic files in 2010, and could face up to 175 years in jail if found guilty.
The Assange case has become a cause celebre for media freedom and his supporters accuse Washington of trying to muzzle reporting of legitimate security concerns.
Wednesday's event slammed the British decision as a "flagrant violation of human rights and a showing of total contempt for freedom of the press".
Pierre Ruetschi, the head of the Swiss Press Club hosting the event, warned that "democracy is being taken hostage".
"This attempt at criminalizing journalism is a serious threat."
Tim Dawson, of the National Union of Journalists of Britain and Ireland, agreed.
"If Julian Assange can be threatened with prosecution as a spy, what might that mean for other journalists?" he said.
Assange has been held on remand at a top-security jail in southeast London since 2019 for jumping bail in a previous case accusing him of sexual assault in Sweden.
Before that he spent seven years at Ecuador's embassy in London to avoid being removed to Sweden.
The Australian was arrested when the government changed in Quito and his diplomatic protection was removed.
Anthony Albanese, the newly elected prime minister of Australia, has rejected calls for him to publicly demand the United States drop its prosecution of WikiLeaks founder and Australian citizen Julian Assange.
Bob Carr, who was foreign minister when Albanese’s centre-left Labor Party was last in power in 2012 and 2013, wrote in an opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday that an Australian request to drop Assange’s prosecution was a “small change” in Australia’s defence alliance with the US.
Speaking to reporters, Albanese declined to say whether he had spoken to President Joe Biden about the case after the British government last week ordered his extradition to the US on spying charges, risking up to 175 years in jail.
“There are some people who think that if you put things in capital letters on Twitter and put an exclamation mark, that somehow makes it more important. It doesn’t,” said Albanese, who came to power in elections a month ago.
“I intend to lead a government that engages diplomatically and appropriately with our partners,” Albanese added.
Assange’s supporters and lawyers say his actions were protected by the US Constitution, and his lawyers have pledged to appeal the United Kingdom’s decision.
The legal battle began in 2010 after WikiLeaks published more than 500,000 classified US documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Assange had lived in the Ecuadorian embassy since 2012 until he was moved to a top-security jail in southeast London in 2019, where he spent three years for jumping bail in a previous case accusing him of sexual assault in Sweden.
That case was dropped but he was not released on grounds he was a flight risk in the US extradition case.
In his op-ed, Carr argued that Assange’s prosecution stood in sharp contrast to the US pardoning former military intelligence officer Chelsea Manning, who had leaked the secret files to WikiLeaks.