Democrats Urge Attorney General Garland to Drop Charges Against Assange

Julian Assange
In this April 11, 2019, file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrives at the Westminster Magistrates Court, after he was arrested in London. (Reuters/Hannah McKay)

By Susanna Granieri

Seven progressive Democratic members of Congress sent a letter April 11 urging Attorney General Merrick Garland to drop the charges against WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, marking the day four years ago that he started his confinement on 17 Espionage Act charges in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison.

The letter outlined the impact to freedom of the press if Assange, who released a trove of national security information, were to be extradited to the United States and face up to 175 years in prison.

“Press freedom, civil liberty, and human rights groups have been emphatic that the charges against Mr. Assange pose a grave and unprecedented threat to everyday, constitutionally protected journalistic activity, and that a conviction would represent a landmark setback for the First Amendment,” the letter stated.

Led by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (MI), six other members of Congress including Jamaal Bowman (NY), Cori Bush (MO), Greg Casar (TX), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Illhan Omar (MN) and Ayanna Pressley (MA) signed onto the letter.

Deep Dive: Are WikiLeaks’ Actions Protected by the First Amendment?

The letter commended Garland for his stance on freedom of the press, referencing a revised news media policy he announced in October that bars the DOJ from using subpoenas or other legal processes against journalists to obtain information they’ve retrieved while news gathering.

“We are grateful for these pro-press freedom revisions, and feel strongly that dropping the Justice Department’s indictment against Mr. Assange and halting all efforts to extradite him to the U.S. is in line with these new policies,” the letter stated.

The group also referenced the various calls made by press freedom groups, news organizations and government officials from all over the world for President Joe Biden to cease attempts to extradite Assange. It came just days after a Department of Justice spokesperson told Poynter the department will be “continuing our efforts to seek the extradition of Julian Assange.” 

The national defense information WikiLeaks shared was also published in coordination with The Guardian, The New York Times, France’s Le Monde, Spain’s El País and Germany’s Der Spiegel, which spun off their own stories. The publications sent their own letter to Garland in November 2022 arguing that the charges against Assange have serious First Amendment implications. Soon after, 22 press freedom and human rights organizations signed onto another letter addressed to Garland denouncing the charges against Assange.

Previous: Julian Assange, the Espionage Act and Dangerous Press Freedom Implications

In support of the Democrats’ letter to Garland, similar demands were made April 11 from lawmakers in Australia, Brazil, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

“Every day that the prosecution of Julian Assange continues is another day that our own government needlessly undermines our own moral authority abroad and rolls back the freedom of the press under the First Amendment at home,” the Democrats’ letter stated. “We urge you to immediately drop these Trump-era charges against Mr. Assange and halt this dangerous prosecution.”

April 11, 2023 — Letter from Democrats to Attorney General Merrick Garland