Julian Assange was arrested this morning, April 11, at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. There were two reasons for the arrest, that he failed to appear on bail in United Kingdom courts in 2012 after seeking asylum in the embassy and that there was an extradition request from the United States on a conspiracy indictment.
The U.K. Magistrates Court has already found him guilty of the bail offense, and he will be sentenced in the Crown Court on May 2 for that offense. It should be noted that the underlying charges that he was on bail for in Sweden have all been dropped, so whatever penalty is imposed for failing to appear will end that matter.
The U.S. indictment charges one count of conspiracy to access a government computer. My former boss at the public defender’s office in Colorado used to say that if the prosecutor can’t charge even one completed crime, it’s a pretty weak case.
In plain language, the U.S. government wants to extradite and prosecute Julian Assange for unsuccessfully trying to decrypt an encrypted password file that whistleblower Chelsea Manning provided.
Prosecutors use their discretion to decide which charges to pursue and which charges not to pursue in order to “seek justice.” The Department of Justice under a previous administration had decided not to prosecute these charges because of the chilling effect it would have on press freedom to prosecute reporters for receiving classified information from their sources. The current DOJ leadership apparently has different priorities.
The First Amendment protects free speech and freedom of the press. That’s easy when the press is speaking in favor of the government and the powers that be. It’s when the press publishes evidence of war crimes, illegal surveillance of American citizens, and embarrassing secrets that the First Amendment needs protection the most.
There is no doubt that Julian Assange has done some bad things, and by many reports was a horrible guest of the Ecuadorian government. As we saw in scandals that rocked the governor of Virginia and the most recent Supreme Court justice, everyone has things that they’ve done that can be used to vilify them in the court of public opinion.
The Libertarian Party stands up for the principles our country was founded on, principles of free speech and press freedom, principles that should apply to everyone no matter how much of a jerk they are or how uncomfortable their reporting makes the U.S. government. This politically motivated prosecution should be dismissed in the interest of justice and to protect our First Amendment.
Chair, Libertarian National Committee