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2017 – A Year In Courage

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As we approach the end of a year that saw increased threats on freedom of the press, right-wing governments on both sides of the Atlantic launch attacks on civil liberties, and the continued persecution of hackers, whistleblowers, and truthtellers of all stripes, we look back on the highlights and lowlights from the front lines of the war for information and the public’s right to know.

January: after years of international pressure and outrage against her unprecedented sentence and degrading treatment, Chelsea Manning’s 35-year prison sentence is commuted in one of President Obama’s final acts in office.

As we noted at the time, Chelsea’s physical freedom could not be more welcome – but because she wasn’t pardoned, Chelsea’s legal appeal against her egregious sentence, and the dishonorable discharge that comes with it, continues – and continues to need support.

February: Britain’s Law Commission floated plans for a new Espionage Act that would have increased the severity of the country’s laws around official secrecy. Courage was part of a concerted push against these proposals that appears to have knocked them off the legislative agenda for the time being. Nevertheless, as Australia’s recent proposals show, this is a battle that is far from over.

March: a Luxembourg appeals court reduced the sentences of Antoine Deltour and Raphael Halet, two former PwC employees who blew the whistle on rampant tax evasion. The appeal ruling, which acknowledged that the LuxLeaks release was in the “general interest” but upheld the convictions nonetheless, was swiftly condemned by a number of MEPs and reinvigorated the fight for whistleblower protections at the EU level.

April: Lauri Love, whose battle against extradition to the US has made headlines in the UK and around the world, is granted permission to appeal against the ruling handed down in September 2016. Shortly after permission is granted, Lauri is part of the volunteer effort to understand and mitigate the Wannacry ransomware attack that crippled hospitals in the UK. His case is profiled in two major UK newspaper features over the summer.

May: In the month Chelsea Manning stepped out of federal prison, Courage recognizes the organization that brought her revelations to the world: WikiLeaks became our newest beneficiary as we launch Leading artists, academics and activists penned an open letter to Donald Trump, calling for an end to the persecution of Wikileaks — the letter has since been signed by thousands of supporters.

July: Courage joins an international coalition to defend accused NSA whistleblower Reality Winner, the first truthteller to be prosecuted by the Trump Administration. Winner stands accused of revealing to the American public the NSA’s view of Russian intelligence’s efforts to influence the 2016 US election.

August: Marcus Hutchins, the British malware researcher responsible for stopping the WannaCry virus in its tracks, is arrested while boarding his plane back to the UK after the Defcon conference in Las Vegas. The Times later reports that British authorities were aware of Hutchins’ pending arrest and had allowed their American counterparts to avoid “the headache of an extradition battle.” After spending a days in pre-trial detention without contact with family, friends or legal representation, Hutchins was granted bail. At the time of writing, he has been forced to stay in the US for nearly six months while awaiting trial.

Also in August, Matt DeHart learns that the credit for his 18 months of time served in a Canadian prison has been unjustifiably revoked – effectively adding a year and a half to his sentence without explanation or recourse.

September: Our beneficiary Barrett Brown, released from prison last year, announces the Pursuance System, a software project being developed to provide a crowdsourcing platform for investigative journalism. Pursuance, he writes, will “integrat[e] thousands of talented individuals and existing organizations into a sort of parallel civic ecosystem,” designed to connect journalists and activists with complementary skills and resources.

Meanwhile, the founder of Barrett’s support group, Kevin Gallagher, is currently suing the US Department of Justice for illicitly uncovering the identities of the group’s donors. Gallagher wrote a post for us, explaining the suit in detail. At the time of writing, Brown continues to suffer financial harassment at the hands of the DOJ.

October: International Director of Cage, Muhammad Rabbani, is found guilty of failing to hand over a phone password during a Schedule 7 interview at Heathrow Airport. More than four years after David Miranda was detained for holding journalistic material, an action eventually ruled unlawful, the Rabbani case shows that source protection is still not respected at British borders.

November: Journalist Stefania Maurizi brought her British Freedom of Information request seeking documents relating to the international case against Julian Assange, to a tribunal of three judges. In her statement regarding the lawsuit, Maurizi said, “This is precisely what a democracy is supposed to do: using its checks and balances to correct serious mistakes made by the government.” A ruling is expected in January.

End of year: At the end of November – over a year since his last court appearance – Lauri Love’s appeal of his extradition finally reaches the Royal Courts of Justice. 73 MPs write to Theresa May and the UK Attorney General asking for a Trial At Home, a call echoed by thousands of supporters taking action for Lauri online.

Lauri’s appeal is heard by the most senior judge in England and Wales, Lord Chief Justice Baron Burnett of Maldon. Evidence from former chief prosecutor Lord Macdonald confirms that Lauri has been singled out: a trial at home — not extradition — is the norm and that the UK has shown a “policy bias” towards prosecuting cybercrime cases in local courts. The court, which also heard evidence of the deteriorating conditions in the US prison system, is expected to rule on the appeal in early 2018.

We can only continue this work with your support. A donation keeps us fighting for our beneficiaries through 2018 and beyond. 

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