An international coalition of journalists, editors and publishers demanded Wednesday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange be immediately released from a UK jail and that all charges against him be dropped.
Fifteen representatives of journalist and publishers' unions and organizations from six countries gathered in Geneva for the ‘call to free Julian Assange in the name of press freedom’
The petitioners also called on Swiss authorities, who have said they have worked to protect Assange, to facilitate his release by offering him a safe haven from further prosecution in Switzerland.
The call came after the British government last week approved Assange's extradition to the United States, to the dismay of his supporters and free press campaigners.
Assange, 50, has said he will appeal against the decision.
He is wanted to face trial for violating the US Espionage Act by publishing military and diplomatic files in 2010, and could face up to 175 years in jail if found guilty.
The Assange case has become a cause celebre for media freedom and his supporters accuse Washington of trying to muzzle reporting of legitimate security concerns.
Wednesday's event slammed the British decision as a "flagrant violation of human rights and a showing of total contempt for freedom of the press".
Pierre Ruetschi, the head of the Swiss Press Club hosting the event, warned that "democracy is being taken hostage".
"This attempt at criminalizing journalism is a serious threat."
Tim Dawson, of the National Union of Journalists of Britain and Ireland, agreed.
"If Julian Assange can be threatened with prosecution as a spy, what might that mean for other journalists?" he said.
Assange has been held on remand at a top-security jail in southeast London since 2019 for jumping bail in a previous case accusing him of sexual assault in Sweden.
Before that he spent seven years at Ecuador's embassy in London to avoid being removed to Sweden.
The Australian was arrested when the government changed in Quito and his diplomatic protection was removed.