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STATEMENT ON THE ARREST OF JULIAN ASSANGE

The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) wishes to express a number of concerns regarding the United States attempt to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, saying that doing so could lead to a slippery slope ultimately eroding the ability of citizens to hold governments accountable.

As a result, the CAJ is calling on the United States to drop its attempt to extradite Assange.

In an indictment unsealed hours after Assange was arrested on April 11, Assange is accused of conspiring with a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning, to publish thousands of secret military and diplomatic documents in 2010.

WikiLeaks partnered with news organizations to share the leaked information which included revelations that the US army had killed a dozen unarmed civilians, including two Reuters employees.

“There is no doubt that leak served the public interest,” said CAJ president Karyn Pugliese.

The CAJ has a number of concerns about the recent actions against Assange. Among them the CAJ is concerned that federal prosecutors kept the indictment and charges sealed until after Assange’s arrest in the United Kingdom on April 11 which was an unnecessary act which lacked transparency.

In the now unsealed indictment, Assange faces a federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for allegedly trying to help a whistleblower break a password to a classified U.S. government computer. There is no evidence that a breach resulted, and computer hacking is not a normal journalistic practice.

However, of concern to the CAJ are parts of the indictment that link the charges to other acts which are normal journalistic practices, and should be protected by First Amendment rights.

For example, the indictment states that it was part of a conspiracy for Assange to encourage Chelsea Manning to provide information and records from departments and agencies of the United States.

Newspapers rights to publish leaked classified papers was established by the courts as a First Amendment right in 1971 when the New York Times published parts of the Pentagon Papers.

"Encouraging sources to leak information that is in the public interest to the media is a basic practice of journalism which must be defended," said Pugliese. “Secrecy is sometimes used to mask corrupt and dishonest behaviour. Journalists and whistleblowers have a role to play in protecting citizens in a democracy.”

The CAJ shares the concerns raised by Amnesty International, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) about Assange's arrest.  

As the ACLU put it: "this indictment characterizes as ‘part of’ a criminal conspiracy the routine and protected activities journalists often engage in as part of their daily jobs, such as encouraging a source to provide more information."

The CAJ is particularly concerned about the potential impacts a successful extradition would have on Canadian journalists covering the U.S. government.

"If Assange is convicted on these charges it could open up other foreign journalists, including Canadian journalists, to be extradited in certain circumstances for publishing information that embarrasses the U.S. government. The extradition attempt should be dropped," said CAJ president Karyn Pugliese.

The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization with more than 750 members across Canada. The CAJ's primary roles are public-interest advocacy work and professional development for its members.

For more information:

Karyn Pugliese, CAJ president

karyn@caj.ca

204-995-1071

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