The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Thursday warned that the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could set a “dangerous precedent” here in the United States.
As reported Thursday morning by The Inquisitr, Assange had been holed up in a private apartment above the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for years, essentially on Ecuadorian soil, while the South American country gave him asylum. However, Ecuador withdrew that asylum, and on Thursday, London police arrested him.
Assange had been staying at the embassy to avoid arrest and extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges. But even with those charges having since been dropped, Assange was still wanted for failure to appear in court.
The question remains in some minds, however, if Assange’s criminal charges and arrest were based on a false or overblown pretext in order to get him behind bars. The WikiLeaks founder has certainly made some enemies within some governments, for his and his news agency’s role in leaking secret information to the public. Here in the United States, for example, the Department of Justice has charged him with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, as Engadget reported Thursday morning. Whether or not other governments intend to charge him with crimes remains unclear.
That a journalist would be arrested and charged with criminal acts is upsetting to Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. In a brief blog post on the ACLU‘s website, Wizner warned that the arrest sets a bad precedent.
“Any prosecution by the United States of Mr. Assange for Wikileaks’ publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional, and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations. Moreover, prosecuting a foreign publisher for violating U.S. secrecy laws would set an especially dangerous precedent for U.S. journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public’s interest.”
Assange’s arrest comes at a time when the political climate for journalists working in the U.S. is already dangerous and is becoming more so by the day.
As Vox reported in January 2019, President Donald Trump has been open about his disdain for journalists who are unfavorable to him, as well as for his belief in prosecuting journalists and for using the legal system against news organizations he doesn’t like. Furthermore, Attorney General William Barr was reportedly evasive when asked whether or not he would prosecute journalists.
Similarly, the Obama administration was also hostile to “leakers” such as Assange, having brought charges against eight journalists who leaked sensitive government information.