UK/US: Impending release of Julian Assange welcomed yet threat to press freedom remains

“While we celebrate his long-awaited release, Assange should have never spent 1901 days behind bars. He will never get the past five years of his life back. His cruel incarceration and extradition proceedings leave a dark stain on the US and the UK”. Romana Cacchioli, Executive Director of PEN International.

25 June 2024: PEN International welcomes the impending release from prison of Wikileaks founder and publisher Julian Assange. His plea deal, while granting him freedom, could set a dangerous precedent for press freedom worldwide. Espionage laws should not be used against journalists and publishers for actions that fall under journalistic activities.  

Details of the plea deal are still emerging; however, it is understood that Assange and the US Department of Justice have an agreement in principle, pending judicial approval. According to court documents, Assange has agreed to plead guilty to a single criminal count under the Espionage Act of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified U.S. national defense documents, and will be sentenced at 9am local time on 26 June (11pm GMT on 25 June). Under the deal, Assange is likely to be sentenced to 62 months of time already served, and to return to Australia.

As Assange is set to be reunited with his family, PEN International celebrates this momentous news and longs to see him alongside his wife Stella, who has been at the forefront of the campaign to free him, and their two sons. However, the fact that he is to be found guilty under the Espionage Act sets a dangerous precedent for all those who seek to expose wrongdoings and hold the powerful to account.

Once again, PEN International condemns the charges brought against Assange and his prosecution. No other journalist, publisher or whistleblower seeking to expose information in the public interest should go through what Assange endured for years.

Background information

On 24 June 2024, Julian Assange was released from Belmarsh prison in London, where he had been held since April 2019. He was travelling to a hearing on the island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth in the Western Pacific, at the time of writing.

PEN International and PEN Centres around the world have been actively campaigning for Assange’s release for years. Most recently, representatives from PEN International, English PEN and PEN Norway attended his public hearings at the UK High Court in London, reiterating the movement’s solidarity. Assange is an honorary member of several PEN Centres.

For more information about PEN International’s campaign for Julian Assange, please see War, Censorship and Persecution, PEN International’s Case List 2023/2024, which documents 122 cases of persecuted writers worldwide, including Assange.