Attorneys seeking details about the U.S. government’s investigation into WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange argued Monday that the Department of Justice lacks justification for continuing to keep its case completely sealed.
Lawyers for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a nonprofit organization representing journalists’ interests, raised the claim throughout a 12-page memorandum filed in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, where the group initiated legal proceedings last month seeking access to sealed documents related to the Justice Department’s pending prosecution of the Australian-born WikiLeaks boss.
“The Reporters Committee does not dispute that, in some cases, prior to an arrest the Government may have a compelling interest that justifies temporary sealing of court records subject to the First Amendment right of access,” attorney Caitlin Vogus wrote in the memo. “But such interests are not present prior to an arrest in all cases, and the Government cannot justify wholesale sealing of the Assange Prosecution, specifically, based on nothing more than the fact that Assange is not in U.S. custody.”
“The Government does not demonstrate a compelling interest that would justify keeping the entirety of the Assange Prosecution sealed by mulishly asserting the fiction that Assange—who has confined himself to the Ecuadoran Embassy in London—might attempt to evade arrest if the nature of the charges pending against him are made public,” she added. “Given the specific circumstances here, unsealing court records from the Assange Prosecution, including the ‘contents’ of the criminal complaint against Assange, would not ‘pose any extra threat’ that he will evade or avoid arrest, or implicate any other compelling interest of the Government.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria declined to comment.
The Reporters Committee filed a motion last month seeking access to court records related to Mr. Assange, 46, after his surname was spotted in a document entered by prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia in an unrelated case.