PEN Norway and other Norwegian organizations call on UK to free WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

The final and crucial hearing in the case of whistle-blower and publicist Julian Assange will take place in the High Court of Justice in London on February 20-21. In the US, Assange is charged under the Espionage Act, and face up to 175 years in prison. Extradition and imprisonment could have dire consequences for press freedom worldwide, at a time when freedom of expression is already under severe pressure.

The case raises three serious questions of principle and human rights:

WikiLeaks, where Julian Assange was the founder, published content from official documents exposing war crimes committed by US forces and their allies. If extradited to the US, the charges would equate journalistic disclosures with espionage, as the actions described in the charges are common methods used by journalists to obtain information.  This includes disclosure of leaked, classified information. It would be the first time US authorities uses the espionage law against a publisher. Extradition and potential imprisonment in the US would have a chilling effect on whistle-blowers and others who reveal or help to reveal war crimes and information about abuse of power by states.

Julian Assange is an Australian citizen, and he published the material on the Internet while residing in the United Kingdom. If the UK comply with the extradition request and the US prosecute a foreign citizen for exposing war crimes under espionage law, it would set a dangerous precedent and be a blatant attack on freedom of expression worldwide.

Julian Assange is in prison for his fifth year without conviction for anything other than violating bail provisions. He has faced harsh prison conditions, and his health has significantly deteriorated during this time. Both current and former UN Special Rapporteurs on torture, Alice Jill Edwards and Nils Melzer, have expressed grave concerns about the treatment meted out to him and his deteriorating health. On February 6, 2024, Edwards urged the British government to halt the extradition. Former Norwegian Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and long-time Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, believes Assange’s treatment may violate Article 3 and Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

We, the undersigned organizations, urge:

  • The British authorities to cease the extradition process and release Julian Assange.
  • The US authorities to drop the espionage case against Julian Assange.
  • The Minister of Foreign Affairs in Norway, Espen Barth Eide, to call upon Great Britain and United States to halt the process, which constitutes a blatant attack on press freedom and freedom of expression.


Rebekka Borsch, Chair, The Norwegian UNESCO Commission
Hege Fagerheim, Deputy Chair, The Norwegian Union of Journalists
Elin Floberghagen, General Secretary, The Norwegian Press Association
Jørgen Watne Frydnes, General Secretary, PEN Norway
Berit Lindeman, General Secretary, The Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Reidun Kjelling Nybø, General Secretary, The Association of Norwegian Editors
Randi Siren Øgrey, Managing Director, The Norwegian Media Businesses’ Association

Note: A copy of this statement and the concerns of the signatory organizations has also been shared with the British Embassy in Oslo, the US Embassy in Oslo, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway.