The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today urged the United Kingdom not to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, where he faces prosecution under the U.S. Espionage Act.

The extradition case of Assange, who is currently lodged in Belmarsh prison, began today at the Woolwich crown court in London. Assange faces up to 175 years in prison if convicted in the U.S.

“The UK, which has cast itself as a leader in the fight for media freedom, should deny this extradition request in light of the serious threat to the press posed by the prosecution of Julian Assange under the Espionage Act in the United States”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “This prosecution would set a dangerous precedent that could be abused to harass journalists, criminalize their work, and prevent them from speaking truth to power.”

Prasad added: “We urge the U.S. government to drop all charges against Assange under the Espionage Act.”

The U.S. government has long sought to punish Assange for his role in publishing a vast trove of American military and diplomatic documents in 2010. The U.S. Justice Department on May 23, 2019 unveiled a new indictment against Assange under the Espionage Act, which represented a significant escalation of those efforts.

Assange’s father, John Shipton, alleged on February 23 that his son had been harassed in prison and demanded that he be released on bail.