top of page
  • Friso van der Vijgh

Last chance for Assange and why you should care

During court hearings in the next two days, London’s High Court might refuse Julian Assange’s final request to appeal his extradition. If the court refuses, he will be transported to a US prison to serve a 175-year sentence. His crime? Journalism.

Friso Van der Vijgh

You've probably heard of him before. You may know him as the man who founded WikiLeaks, the man who published Hillary Clinton’s emails during the elections, or the man accused of rape [1].

However you know him, or whatever you think of him, is no longer important. This story has transcended the person of Julian Assange. His imminent extradition to the US endangers press freedom around the world. 

You don’t have to take it from me. This comes straight from the mouths of the New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, El País, the International Federation of Journalists, and the European Federation of Journalists.

The US is not prosecuting Assange for influencing the elections, nor for rape or hacking as some people claim. In reality, the charges are solely related to activities that journalists engage in on a daily basis: working with sources to obtain and disclose sensitive information in the public interest.

For example, one of the charges relates to Assange helping his source, Chelsey Manning, to maintain her anonymity by advising her to use a different username while logging in to the Defense Department’s computer system. In other words, he was doing what journalists are morally obligated to do: making sure that his source remains anonymous and is not put in unnecessary danger.

Not only that but another core part of journalism will be criminalized if Assange gets extradited to the US: holding governments accountable.

The indictment specifically focuses on Assange’s involvement in the publication of the Iraq and Afghan War Logs. These publications, containing thousands and thousands of leaked US government documents, give an extremely detailed account of the US military’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2004 and 2009. The war logs exposed how the US tried to hide around 15,000 civilian deaths in Iraq and how its authorities did not care to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape, and murder by Iraqi police officers and soldiers. 

Probably the most famous part of the War Logs is the ‘Collateral Murder’ video. This video, taken from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, shows the unprovoked killing of 12 civilians, including two Reuters journalists, that took place in 2007 in Baghdad.

As Europeans, we should know what our ally and most powerful military in the world (the US’ military budget for 2023 was almost 900bln) is doing in other countries, especially if it is violating human rights and perpetrating war crimes under the guise of bringing ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. But if Britain extradites Assange to the US, this will send a strong signal to journalists around the world: do not expose our war crimes or you will be next. 

The legal precedent of Assange’s extradition will have a chilling effect on global press freedom, discouraging journalists from informing the public on state misconduct for fear of persecution. To make things worse, governments around the world will be encouraged to prosecute (or keep prosecuting) critical journalists following the example of the US.

As the International Federation of Journalists writes, “the case sets a dangerous precedent that members of the media, in any country, can now be targeted by governments, anywhere in the world, to answer for publishing information in the public interest”. 

A free press is one of the hallmarks of democracy and absolutely necessary for its functioning. Think about it, how can you make an informed choice in the next elections if you have no idea what your elected officials have been up to? If your president is responsible for hundreds of violations of human rights and thousands of civilian deaths, wouldn’t you want to know? Don’t you have a right to know?

Thousands and thousands of people think the answer is ‘yes, we have a right to know’. They are rising up to show the UK and the US that they cannot get away with criminalizing journalism. They are organizing protests in more than 20 different countries on the days of Assange’s last court hearings on 20 and 21 February. From London to Mexico and from Brussels to Sydney, people are ready to defend press freedom and demand the release of Assange.

While the main ‘Free Assange’ protest is taking place outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London on the morning of 20 and 21 February, there are protests in many other European cities including Prague, Copenhagen, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Amsterdam, The Hague, Wroclaw, Bratislava and Bern [2]. 

However much you dislike the person of Assange, if you believe that journalism should keep governments accountable, then you too can’t be indifferent about the hearing that will take place tomorrow and the day after. If you are on the side of press freedom, you are on the side of Assange.

[1] We talk about all these accusations and more in our two-part podcast on the Assange case. Click here to listen to the first episode.

[2] If you want to join a protest in a city near you check this page for more information.

Friso van der Vijgh is a member of Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25) of which Julian Assange is an advisory panel member.



bottom of page