The jury’s justification for the Ossietzky Prize 2023:
Julian Assange has, both as a publisher and editor, been instrumental in revealing severe war crimes committed by the United States and its allies in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the unlawful imprisonment and abuse of detainees at Guantanamo.
Julian Assange’s publication of classified documents in 2010 contributed to important debates about the legitimacy and lawfulness of US military actions, Norway’s most important ally. The information provided a more accurate picture of the brutality and abuse of power, as well as gross violations of the laws of war by the United States.
The revelations formed the basis for news coverage worldwide and gave the public the opportunity to correct and prevent abuse of power and human rights violations, which is essential to critical journalism.
Without the leaked documents published by Julian Assange, we would not have had this insight.
Julian Assange’s efforts for the right to information have come at a high personal cost. For the last five years he has been imprisoned in the British high-security prison Belmarsh, with limited contact with his family and inadequate communication with his lawyers. His health has deteriorated significantly during his time in detention.
The treatment that Julian Assange has been and is being subjected to can amount to violations of the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibit any form of torture and inhuman treatment.
Julian Assange faces the risk of extradition to the United States under the Espionage Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison. There is only one court hearing and one final chance of appeal that now prevents extradition.
The essence of investigative journalism is to systematically work to uncover truthful information, especially about reprehensible social conditions and abuse of power. According to US law/legislation, it is the publication itself that can provide grounds for prosecution/conviction under the Espionage Act, which also implies possible prosecution of the news media that disseminate leaked material. An indictment under the espionage statute would have serious consequences for press and freedom of speech worldwide and would undermine journalists’ legal protections, also here in Norway. If Julian Assange is extradited to the United States, the very core of press freedom is under attack and could mark a significant historical setback for independent, critical journalism.
There are also significant challenges to legal protection when an Australian citizen can be arrested in a European country and extradited for prosecution in the US for something published on the internet.
Citizens’ right to information is a prerequisite for democracy. Without a democracy based on informed citizens, abuse of power and violations of the law cannot be corrected and changed. Julian Assange has defended the core of democracy. Like several predecessors, Julian Assange has made public essential documents in this sensitive area, a role that is often criticized but will be recognized as highly significant when history is to be written.
Siri Berge Engerud
Communications Officer, PEN Norway