Itwelve years ago, on November 28, 2010, our five world-class media outlets (The New York Times, The Guardian, The world, El País and Der Spiegel) united to publish, in collaboration with WikiLeaks, a series of revelations picked up by the media around the world.
More than 251,000 diplomatic cables from the United States Department of State were made public during this “Cablegate”, shedding light on several cases of corruption, diplomatic scandals and espionage operations on a global scale. .
As then wrote the New York Timesthe leaked documents traced “the unvarnished story of how the government makes its most important decisions, those that have the greatest human and financial cost to the country. » Today, in 2022, this exceptional documentary source is still used by journalists and historians alike, who still find material there for the publication of unpublished revelations.
For the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, this “Cablegate” and several other “leaks” or leaks of sensitive documents have had extremely serious consequences. On April 12, 2019, Julian Assange, under a US arrest warrant, was apprehended in London. For three and a half years now, he has been detained on British soil, in a high security prison which normally houses terrorists or members of groups linked to organized crime. He risks being extradited to the United States, where he faces a sentence of up to one hundred and seventy-five years in a very high security prison.
Our group of editors and managing editors, all of whom have had the opportunity to work with Julian Assange, found it necessary to publicly criticize his attitude in 2011 when uncensored versions of the diplomatic cables were made public, and some of us remain concerned about the allegation in the US indictment that he aided in the computer intrusion into a classified “defense-secret” database. But we stand together today to express our deep concern over the endless legal proceedings that Julian Assange is facing for collecting and publishing confidential and sensitive information.
The Obama-Biden administration, in power when WikiLeaks was published in 2010, refrained from suing Julian Assange, explaining that many journalists from several major media should also have been prosecuted. This position recognized freedom of the press as crucial, regardless of the unpleasant consequences.
But this vision of things has evolved under the mandate of Donald Trump: the Department of Justice now relies on a law dating back more than a century, the Espionage Act of 1917. Conceived during the First World War to be able to sue would-be spies, this federal law had never been used against journalists, media outlets or broadcasters. Such an indictment sets a dangerous precedent, threatens the freedom of information and risks reducing the scope of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
In a democracy, one of the fundamental missions of an independent press is to hold governments accountable.
Collecting and disseminating sensitive information is likewise an essential part of a journalist’s day-to-day work, when such disclosure proves to be in the public interest. If this work is declared criminal, then not only the quality of public debate but also our democracies will be considerably weakened.
Twelve years after the first publications linked to “Cablegate”, the time has come for the United States government to drop its charges against Julian Assange for having published secret information.
Publishing is not a crime.
Translated from English by Lucas Faugère.
This text is signed by the editors of: The New York Times, The Guardian, The world, Der Spiegel, El País.
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