United States condemns China attack on freedom as it persecutes journalist

Hong Kong's pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 74, and Australian WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, 51, are journalists facing life in jail for angering governments by exposing the truth.

The United States condemned the October 25 verdict against Hong Kong democracy advocate Jimmy Lai, founder of the Apple Daily newspaper, who was convicted on spurious fraud charges.

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is now languishing in UK’s high-security Belmarsh prison in London, where he has been confined since April 2019 after spending seven years in the Embassy of Ecuador in London, where he was granted asylum during his battle against extradition to Sweden, although the United States really wanted him.

“We remain deeply concerned about the deterioration in protection for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the systematic dismantling of Hong Kong’s autonomy under the national security law (NSL),” said a statement issued by the US State Department.  “These include increased efforts to wield the NSL to suppress independent media, to silence dissenting views, and to stifle freedom of speech.”

In May 2019, the United States government charged Assange with violating the Espionage Act of 1917, a decision criticized by newspapers, including The Washington Post and The New York Times, as well as press freedom organizations that characterized it as an attack on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees freedom of the press.

Though Lai’s fraud trial did not involve crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism, or collusion with foreign organizations, local authorities nonetheless imposed the NSL’s more restrictive legal procedures for his case.  

WikiLeaks came to international attention in 2010 when it published a series of leaks provided by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, which included the Baghdad airstrike Collateral Murder video, the Afghanistan war logs, the Iraq war logs, and Cablegate.

WikiLeaks revealed outrageous human rights abuses by the US military under the Bush administration, chronicled in hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables and other documents about Afghanistan and the war in Iraq,

Among them were classified U.S. military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters that killed a dozen people in Baghdad, including two journalists, Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and his assistant Saeed Chmagh, 40.

Wikileaks encourages whistleblowers to fight government and corporate corruption.

During the 2016 U.S. election campaign, WikiLeaks published confidential Democratic emails showing that the party’s national committee favored Hillary Clinton over her rival Bernie Sanders in the primaries. In March 2017, WikiLeaks published a series of documents which detailed the CIA’s electronic surveillance and cyber warfare capabilities.

The 50-year-old Australian publisher and journalist faces up to 175 years in jail if found guilty although he is not a US citizen and merely published news that the government failed to keep secret. 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) launched a petition calling on Hong Kong authorities for the urgent release of Lai, aged 74, who was the founder of the now-defunct media outlet Apple Daily, once Hong Kong’s largest Chinese language opposition newspaper.

The National Security Law, adopted by the Chinese regime to suppress dissent in Hong Kong undermines the People’s Republic of China’s obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration agreed to by former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang,

Americans and the British say the Joint Declaration is a binding international agreement to uphold Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and protected rights and freedoms but China has stated since 2014 that it considers the treaty to be spent with no further legal effect.

We urge PRC authorities to restore respect for press freedom in Hong Kong, where a once-vibrant independent media environment has all but disappeared.  Efforts to stifle press freedom and restrict the free flow of information undermine Hong Kong’s democratic institutions and hurt Hong Kong’s credibility as a business and financial hub.

In a report titled The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China, RSF revealed the system of censorship and information control established by the Chinese regime and the global threat it poses to press freedom and democracy.

David Schlesinger, Reuters’ editor-in-chief, said the Collateral Murder video released by WikiLeaks showed the deaths of Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh were “tragic and emblematic of the extreme dangers that exist in covering war zones.”

The United States, once considered a model for press freedom and free speech, ranks 42nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index after bouncing a few places in the last several years.

A trans woman, Manning (born Bradley Edward Manning) is a former United States Army soldier who was convicted by court-martial in July 2013 of violations of the Espionage Act and imprisoned until 2017, when her 35-year sentence was commuted.

Manning was fined $256,000 and jailed nearly a year for contempt when she refused to testify before a grand jury investigating Assange.

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