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UK slips down press freedom index, partly due to ongoing persecution of Julian Assange

Wednesday 22 April 2020, by siawi3


UK slips down press freedom index, partly due to ongoing persecution of Julian Assange

Ed Sykes

21st April 2020

The UK has now fallen to 35th position in the latest World Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders (RSF). One reason for scoring the UK behind 34 other countries was that “Wikileaks founder Julian Assange received a disproportionate prison sentence of 50 weeks for breaking bail”.

Regarding Assange, the latest report said:

The Home Secretary gave the green light to the court to consider the US’ extradition request, and Assange remained in custody at the high security Belmarsh Prison despite widespread international concern for his health and treatment, including by the UN Special Rapporteur for Torture.

“Political pressure”

The persecution and detention of Julian Assange has faced much criticism. Hip-hop artist Lowkey, for example, previously spoke to The Canary about the importance of whistleblowers and media freedom. A statement from Veterans for Peace UK (VfP UK) in 2019, meanwhile, explained how the Iraq War Logs and Afghan War Diaries from WikiLeaks had:

revealed the true human cost of our wars in the Middle East. Wikileaks acted in the public interest by releasing these documents and Julian Assange, as a journalist, was right to publish in association with newspapers including The Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde, and Der Spiegel.

RSF has long criticised Washington’s “determination to hound Assange”. Back in 2010, meanwhile, it called on the UK to “guarantee respect for his defence rights despite the extreme tension surrounding this case”; and it slammed “the blocking, cyber-attacks and political pressure being directed at WikiLeaks”. It also stressed:

WikiLeaks has played a useful role by publicising serious human rights violations that were committed in the name of the “war against terror” during the past decade.

RSF has criticised the UK government’s treatment of Assange ever since. The last time the UK ranked above 30 in the index was 2013, when it came in 29th place.

RSF unveils its 2020 World Press Freedom Index: here

Further UK concerns

RSF explained:

the UK’s domestic press freedom record remained cause for concern throughout 2019. The killing of journalist Lyra McKee whilst observing rioting in Derry in April, and continued threats to journalists covering paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, underscored the need for urgent attention to the safety of journalists; however there was no apparent progress towards the establishment of a National Committee for the Safety of Journalists and a National Action Plan on Safety of Journalists as announced by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in July.

It also mentioned that:

Counter-terrorism and crime legislation adopted during the year contained worrying provisions that could restrict reporting and put journalists’ data at risk. The London Metropolitan Police pursued the publication of leaked information from diplomatic cables as a “criminal matter.” Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) were used as a means to attempt to silence public interest reporting, such as in defamation cases brought by Arron Banks against journalist Carole Cadwalladr. During the general election campaign, the Conservative Party threatened to review the BBC’s licence fee and Channel 4’s public service broadcasting licence if the party returned to government.