The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) condemns the Trump administration’s indictment under the 1917 Espionage Act of WikiLeaks journalist Julian Assange, as well as the jailing of whistleblower Chelsea Manning for her refusal to testify before the WikiLeaks grand jury investigation. The NLG reiterates its support of these two whistleblowers, and demand that Assange’s indictment be dropped and Manning be freed from jail.
First used against Socialists who opposed the draft in World War I, the Espionage Act has since been used to target those on the Left who advocate for justice in the United States, including Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The use of this century-old law is especially alarming in the context of Trump, who, like Hitler and Stalin, has consistently portrayed the media as “the enemy of the people.”
If the government succeeds in imprisoning Julian Assange, who faces 175 years in prison, it will be a blow to the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press. It is a threat to national security journalism and a threat to free journalism generally.
The NLG, which has a proud history of fighting the abuses of the Grand Jury System, also condemns the current incarceration of Chelsea Manning. Two years after being released from prison where she, a trans woman, served seven years for exposing U.S. war crimes during which she was held in a men’s prison and survived months of solitary confinement and two suicide attempts, she was jailed once again for refusing to answer questions before a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks and Assange. Manning is being represented by NLG NYC Chapter attorney, Moira Meltzer-Cohen, who notes the importance of “taking principled stands against the arbitrary exercise of power.” Recently, on May 31, 2019, Manning and her legal team filed a motion to reconsider sanctions.
In June 2014, the NLG joined nearly 60 organizations in submitting two reports—one in English and one in Spanish—to the UN Universal Periodic Review highlighting procedural rights violations of Assange, Sweden’s longest running case of pre-trial deprivation of liberty. According to the English report, “The methods employed by the prosecutor in Mr. Assange’s case are a clear violation of his fundamental human rights, yet they remain beyond the reach of judicial review.”
Trump’s dual attacks on Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning are a threat not only to national security journalism in the U.S. The assertion of extraterritorial jurisdiction by the U.S. on a foreign journalist is an attack on journalists everywhere. The National Lawyers Guild, with its 81-year history of defending free speech, press and association, advocating for adherence to international law, and steadfast opposition to grand jury abuse, stands with these two courageous whistleblowers.
The National Lawyers Guild, whose membership includes lawyers, legal workers, jailhouse lawyers, and law students, was formed in 1937 as the United States’ first racially-integrated bar association to advocate for the protection of constitutional, human and civil rights.
- 6/17/17 | To Fight against US Imperialism, We Must Protect Whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning
- 1/18/17 | NLG Responds to the Commutation of the Sentences of Oscar López Rivera and Chelsea Manning
- 6/19/14 | NLG and Nearly 60 International Organizations Urge UN to Remedy Human Rights Violations in Pre-Charge Detention of Julian Assange