A bipartisan group of 16 members of Congress has called on President Biden to drop the case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, warning of the grave threats to press freedom if he is convicted.
The lawmakers made the call in a letter sent to President Biden on Wednesday. The effort was led by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and James McGovern (D-MA), who began circulating the letter to their colleagues for signatures last month.
“It is the duty of journalists to seek out sources, including documentary evidence, in order to report to the public on the activities of government,” the letter reads, according to a press release from Assange Defense.
“The United States must not pursue an unnecessary prosecution that risks criminalizing common journalistic practices and thus chilling the work of the free press. We urge you to ensure that this case be brought to a close in as timely a manner as possible,” the letter states.
The letter was also signed by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Greg Casar (D-TX), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Cori Bush (D-MO), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Eric Burlison (R-MO), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Jesús García (D-IL), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Matthew Rosendale (R-MT), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
The letter comes as the Biden administration has been under pressure from the Australian government to free Assange, who is an Australian citizen. In September, a delegation of Australian members of parliament from across the political spectrum visited Washington and met with U.S. officials to lobby for Assange. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese brought up the case with President Biden when he visited the White House in October.
Assange faces up to 175 years in prison if extradited to the U.S. and convicted for exposing U.S. war crimes. The charges stem from documents published by WikiLeaks that Assange obtained from his source, former Army Private Chelsea Manning, a standard journalistic practice. Assange has been held in London’s Belmarsh Prison since April 2019 as his legal team is fighting against U.S. efforts to extradite him.