An international coalition of journalists, editors and publishers on Wednesday demanded the immediate release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from a British prison and the removal of all charges against him.
Fifteen representatives of unions and organizations of journalists and publishers from six countries gathered in Geneva to “call for the release of Julian Assange in the name of freedom of the press.”
The applicants also called on the Swiss authorities, who said they were working to protect Assange, to facilitate his release by offering him safe haven from further prosecution in Switzerland.
The call came after the British government last week approved Assange’s extradition to the United States, to the dismay of his supporters and press freedom advocates.
Assange, 50, said he would appeal the decision.
He will stand trial for violating the US Espionage Act by releasing military and diplomatic files in 2010 and could face up to 175 years in prison if proven guilty.
The Assange case has become a case for media freedom, and his supporters accuse Washington of trying to silence reports of legitimate security concerns.
At an event on Wednesday, the British decision was criticized as “a blatant violation of human rights and a complete disregard for freedom of the press.”
Pierre Ruetti, head of the Swiss Press Club that hosted the event, warned that “democracy is being held hostage.”
“This attempt to criminalize journalism poses a serious threat.”
Tim Dawson of the National Union of Journalists of Great Britain and Ireland agreed.
“If Julian Assange could be threatened with prosecution as a spy, what could that mean for other journalists?” he said.
Assange has been held in a maximum security prison in southeast London since 2019 for bail evasion in a previous case in which he was accused of sexual assault in Sweden.
Prior to that, he spent seven years at the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid being deported to Sweden.
The Australian was arrested when the government changed in Quito and his diplomatic protection was lifted.