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Colombian President Gustavo Petro: Charges Against Julian Assange Are “Mockery of Freedom of Press”

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Image Credit: Henry Nicholls/Reuters (photo right)

At the United Nations General Assembly this week, multiple world leaders voiced support for the imprisoned founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, including Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Colombian President Gustavo Petro. We air an excerpt of Democracy Now!'s exclusive interview with Petro, who calls Assange's continued incarceration “the greatest mockery of freedom of press … brought to bear by the country that built the concept.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The United Nations General Assembly opened Tuesday here in New York. The Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was the first world leader to speak. He called for urgent action to address the climate crisis and to combat growing inequality. He also voiced support for Julian Assange, the imprisoned founder of WikiLeaks.

PRESIDENT LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Preserving press freedom is essential. A journalist like Julian Assange cannot be punished for informing society in a transparent and legitimate way.

AMY GOODMAN: President Lula’s comments come as pressure is intensifying on the Biden administration to drop charges against Assange. A delegation of six Australian lawmakers has just arrived in Washington, D.C., to urge the U.S. to drop its case against Assange, who is an Australian citizen. Assange faces espionage and hacking charges that could see him sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for publishing classified U.S. military and diplomatic cables, including evidence of war crimes. Assange has been held in London’s infamous Belmarsh Prison since 2019 awaiting possible extradition to the U.S. Before that, he spent seven years living in the cramped Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had political asylum.

In a moment, we’ll be joined by an Australian senator who’s just flown in to Washington. But first I want to turn to Colombian President Gustavo Petro. I spoke to him on Tuesday at Colombia’s Permanent Mission here in New York just after he addressed the U.N. General Assembly.

AMY GOODMAN: President Lula also said at the U.N. General Assembly, about Julian Assange, “Preserving press freedom is essential. A journalist like Julian Assange cannot be punished for informing society in a transparent and legitimate way.” President Petro, do you think that Julian Assange — that the United States should drop charges against Julian Assange so he can be free?

PRESIDENT GUSTAVO PETRO: [translated] I call him Julian, Assange. He is a journalist, period. And what he did was the work of a journalist, period. And he’s been in prison for a long time because of his work as a journalist.

It’s the greatest mockery of the freedom of the press, and it’s been brought to bear by the country that built the concept. It was in the American Revolution. What they call the Founding Fathers here, they are the ones who said that there must be a press independent of power, of the powers that be. At that time, that was understood as the political power. Today, I would also talk about the economic powers, because the press has succumbed to economic power interests. But if we take this foundational concept of the United States, what they’re doing with Assange is contradicting it, denying their own foundational principle. The very government of the United States is doing this. And so it’s a contradiction in terms. It’s a contradiction, in and of itself, as a society.

Assange should be free, and we have called for that. I have called for that. Lula has made it into a banner. Ecuador, when with a progressive president, was safeguarding him. His lawyers visit us sometimes, desperate.

But if Biden — Biden has several messages to put out, in my opinion. I could not replace him, because I don’t know the U.S. society in depth, and I know that he is confronting very dark, backward-looking forces that date back a long time in the society. But Biden should take the leap of reforming the international financial system, the IMF, to reduce the public debts of all countries and free up a bunch of space for a Marshall Plan for life. He can. He has that ability, with Europe. Biden could in this way become the green leader, the environmental leader of the world. Look at all of the young people today who would like to have an opportunity to live in coming decades.

And Biden could launch the message of democracy. Lifting up the process, he could pardon him, what have you, the path to tell the world that a journalist doing their job as a journalist should not be kept prisoner, even if it has a negative impact on the interests of U.S. power, because it’s the foundational aspect of that power. Well, the principle is that the press must operate independent of power. That would be sending a message to the world. I don’t know how much it would be a message to his own society, but I believe that society itself has democratic defenses that would make it possible to recognize a great democratic leader.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Colombian President Gustavo Petro. We’ll air the whole exclusive interview on Thursday on Democracy Now!

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Australian Senator Peter Whish-Wilson Calls on U.S. to End the “Totalitarian” Prosecution of Julian Assange

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