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JOURNALISTS from nearly 100 countries have united to defend jailed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, as he faces extradition to the US and 175 years behind bars.
A statement signed by more than 1,200 media workers warned of an unprecedented attack on press freedom as Mr Assange’s court hearing begins on Monday.
If extradited he will face charges under the draconian Espionage Act, which would be its first use against a publisher of information provided by a whistleblower.
Signatories believe that Mr Assange’s imprisonment and the court proceedings are a “gross miscarriage of justice.”
“It is very rare for journalists to join together and speak up on an issue. Indeed, the size and breadth of this joint journalists’ statement may be unprecedented,” Journalists Speak Up For Assange spokeswoman Serena Tinari said.
Mr Assange remains in Belmarsh Prison despite his sentence for skipping bail ending in September, after judges deemed that he was a flight risk.
He faces charges after publishing US military documents from Afghanistan and Iraq and US State Department cables, including some containing evidence of war crimes.
“If governments can use espionage laws against journalists and publishers, they are deprived of their most important and traditional defence — of acting in the public interest — which does not apply under the Espionage Act,” the statement says.
“Journalists anywhere in the world could find themselves being extradited to another country and charged under draconian espionage laws.”
The statement has been signed by prominent whistleblowers Katharine Gunn and Edward Snowden, as well as by Daniel Ellsberg, the source of the Panama Papers.
Ms Tinari said: “Many of us use confidential information received from whistleblowers. It is an essential part of our role on behalf of the public. Every journalist and publisher should be appalled and worried at this attempt to criminalise our work.”
The journalists demanded the immediate release of Mr Assange and for all charges to be dropped.
“We urge our fellow journalists to inform the public accurately about this abuse of fundamental rights. We urge all journalists to speak up in defence of Julian Assange at this critical time.
“Dangerous times call for fearless journalism,” the statement concluded.
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