Assange lawyer: WikiLeaks founder’s fight continues

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may be back in his home country of Australia, but his fight for free speech and freedom of the press will continue, according to his lawyer Barry Pollack.

“Mr Assange revealed truthful, important, and newsworthy information, including revealing that the United States had committed war crimes,” Pollack said in a statement to the media after his client was sentenced to time served on 26 June in the US District Court in the Northenr Mariana Islands.

“And he has suffered tremendously in his fight for free speech, for freedom of the press, and to ensure that the American public and the world community gets truthful and important newsworthy information.

“We firmly believe that Mr Assange never should have been charged under the Espionage Act as he engaged in exercise that journalists engage in every day, and we’re thankful that they do. It is appropriate, though, for this fight to end, and it is appropriate for the judge as she did today to determine that no additional incarceration of Mr. Assange would be fair, would be appropriate, and it is time for him to be reunited with his family.

Mr Assange is grateful for all of the support that he has received and looks forward to reuniting with his wife and his children and getting back home to Australia,” he said.

Answering questions fielded by journalists from over 40 media outlets – most of whom had to hastily make travel arrangements to the far-flung Western Pacific island – Pollack said Assange’s work with WikiLeaks, a non-profit media organization and publisher of leaked documents, will continue.

“Mr Assange, I have no doubt, will be a continuing force for freedom of speech and transparency in government. He is a powerful voice and a voice that cannot and should not be silenced,” he said.

Pollack also said other than embolden the leaking of more classified materials in the future, how Assange was prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice for more than a decade actually sends a chilling precedent.

“The fact that the United States elected to charge Mr Assange with violating the Espionage Act [is the chilling effect].

The court [Thursday] determined that no harm was caused by Mr Assange’s publications. We know that they were newsworthy. We know that they were quoted by every major media outlet on the planet. And we know that they revealed important information.”

He went on to say that what his client did “is called journalism” and the United States government still decided to prosecute him.

“They exposed Mr Assange to 175 years in prison. That is what has a chilling effect. Today, a decision that it’s time for Mr Assange to go home, that doesn’t have a chilling effect. The chilling effect is the United States pursuing journalism as a crime. I hope this is the first and last time that ever occurs.”

Julian Assange’s lawyers Barry Pollack, right, and Jennifer Robinson.

While Pollack did acknowledge that his client plead guilty for one count of violating the U.S. Espionage Act, he said Assange would not plead guilty to 17 counts of the Espionage Act and computer hacking.

“There was a very narrow agreed-upon set of facts here, and Mr. Assange acknowledges that, of course, he accepted documents from Chelsea Manning and published many of those documents because it was in the world’s interest that those documents be published. Unfortunately, that violates the terms of the Espionage Act.

“That’s what we acknowledge today. We also said, and Mr Assange said very clearly, that he believes there should be First Amendment protection for that contract. But the fact of the matter is, as written, the Espionage Act does not have a defense for the First Amendment. So, what he acknowledged is what he has to acknowledge, which is true, and nothing that he should be ashamed of. Yes, he received classified information from Chelsea Manning and he published that information.”

At the very least, he said Assange’s 14-year legacy of fighting the US DOJ would spur an important discussion in the United States about how to balance national security and freedom of the press.

“He has [stood] by his principles, putting up with detention in the embassy, incarceration in a high-security prison. I hope that every one of us would have the courage to stand by our ideals the way Mr. Assange has. And so I certainly hope he feels that he has left a powerful legacy. And I am certain that there are other chapters in the Julian Assange story yet to be written,” said Pollack.

On why Assange and his legal team chose Saipan to make formal his plea deal with the US government, Pollack said it basically boiled down to convenience.

“Because his supposed crime occurred entirely outside of the United States, whatever district is the first district that he enters is the appropriate district for him to be prosecuted. By agreement with the government, we decided that this was an appropriate venue. It is closest to Australia. It allowed us to come in, allowed Mr. Assange to walk out a free man and to quickly get back to his family in Australia.”

Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s longest serving counsel, said Assange’s freedom is a historic day as it brought to an end 14 years of legal battles.

“…finally, after 14 years of legal battles, Julian Assange can go home a free man. This also brings to an end a case which has been recognized as the greatest threat to the First Amendment in the 21st century. So, it is a huge relief to Julian Assange, to his family, to his friends, to his supporters and to us and to everyone who believes in free speech around the world that he can now return home to Australia and be reunited with his family,” she said.

Robinson also doubled down on what Pollack alluded to as the U.S. government abuse in using the Espionage Act to prosecute their client.

“I think it’s also important that we recognize the free speech implications of this case. Julian has suffered for more than 14 years because of the risk of expedition to the United States. He faced 175 years in prison for publishing evidence of war crimes, human rights abuse and U.S. wrongdoing around the world. Today he pleaded guilty to an offence for having published information in the public interest for which he’s won journalism awards the world over and been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize every year for the past decade. This sets a dangerous precedent. This prosecution sets a dangerous precedent that should be of concern to journalists everywhere.”

She said, in essence the U.S. DOJ is seeking to exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction over everyone without giving them constitutional free speech protections.

“And anyone who cares about free speech and democratic accountability should stand against it. But I want to encourage everyone that stood up and fought for Julian to continue to stand up and fight against his dangerous precedent. I hope that the fact that we’ve been able to free Julian Assange today against all the odds and against one of the most powerful governments in the world will give hope to all journalists and publishers who are imprisoned around the world. And we encourage everyone who stood to fight for Julian to continue that fight for him and for all of those others in the hope that we can secure their freedom too.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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