In an open letter, dozens of organizations have demanded the immediate release of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from a maximum security prison in London. The Australian, who turned 49 on Friday, has been in the Belmarsh Prison detention center in the east of the capital for about a year.
Signatory groups from five continents include organizations that are committed to freedom of the press and human rights. The lawsuit against Assange opens the door to the criminalization of activities that are important for investigative journalists, said the head of PEN International, Carles Torner.
The US judiciary accuses Assange of helping whistleblower Chelsea Manning release secret material from US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Washington, the security of US informants in particular was put at risk. Assange faces up to 175 years in prison if convicted on all 18 charges. Assange denies the allegations. The Wikileaks revelations had also exposed American soldiers to war crimes.
Assange had fled to the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012, fearing extradition to the United States. At the time, he had a European arrest warrant for rape allegations in Sweden. However, the investigation was later stopped.
The British police arrested Assange in April 2019 for violating bail conditions by fleeing to the embassy. In May 2019, he was sentenced to 50 weeks’ imprisonment. Assange is still in prison for the US extradition request.