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Law professors warn US on Assange prosecution
Julian Assange supporters started a billboard campaign in London Pic: Katherine Da Silva, Shutterstock

16 Feb 2024 / global news Print

Law professors warn US on Assange prosecution

Law professors have warned the US Department of Justice (DOJ) that charges against Julian Assange under the country’s Espionage Act “pose an existential threat to the First Amendment”.

An appellate hearing on the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition from Britain to the US is due to be held at the High Court in London next week.

The 35 professors write that, although their “personal views on Assange and WikiLeaks vary”, they are nonetheless “united in our concern about the constitutional implications of prosecuting Assange”.

They say that the implications of such a prosecution could extend beyond the Espionage Act, and beyond national-security journalism, to “enable prosecution of routine news-gathering under any number of ambiguous laws and untested legal theories”.

One of the signatories is James Goodale, the former vice-president and general counsel for The New York Times and an adjunct professor at Fordham School of Law.

‘Disastrous’ for press freedom

He believes that, if Assange is convicted, similar prosecutions seeking to criminalise investigative reporting are inevitable.

“Based on my experience, which includes serving as The New York Times’ general counsel when the Nixon administration tried to indict a journalist under the Espionage Act for publishing the Pentagon Papers, I am confident that a successful prosecution of Julian Assange would lead to similar charges against journalists from newspapers like the Times when they uncover secrets that embarrass officials,” he stated.

“This would be absolutely disastrous for press freedom in the United States,” said Goodale.

Seth Stern, the director of advocacy for Freedom of the Press Foundation, which helped organise the letter, said: “Scholars, lawyers, media publishers and activists all agree that the prosecution of Julian Assange under the Espionage Act is sure to lead to prosecutions of journalists for doing their jobs.

“It seems the only people who disagree are the DOJ. It’s time for them to finally drop this dangerous prosecution. Whether you love or hate Julian Assange, if he comes first, a journalist you do like may come next,” he concluded.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland