A group of six eminent public intellectuals in India criticised the arrest of WikiLeaks founder and Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange in London last week, saying that “his arrest, and the attempt to extradite him to the US are, clearly, attacks on freedom of the press and its right to publish”. In a statement, they also called for his immediate release.

The statement was signed by N Ram, the former editor-in-chief of The Hindu Group of Publications, writer Arundhati Roy, former Additional Solicitor General of India Indira Jaising, former West Bengal Governor and writer Gopalkrishna Gandhi, journalist and People’s Archive of Rural India founder P Sainath, and historian and writer Romila Thapar.

Assange was arrested from the Ecuadorian Embassy on Thursday after Quito, in a controversial decision, withdrew the asylum provided to him in 2012. The journalist had been living in the embassy since June 2012 after he sought asylum to avoid being extradited to Sweden in connection with sexual assault allegations against him.

Soon after his arrest, it came to light that Assange had been arrested for violating bail conditions in the United Kingdom and on the basis of a warrant filed by the US Justice Department. Washington wants him extradited for conspiring with whistleblower Chelsea Manning to hack a defence department computer. In 2010, WikiLeaks had released a tranche of military and diplomatic documents, including those pertaining to the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, uncovering potential war crimes. Manning is in jail at present for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury in connection with the government’s investigation into Wikileaks.

“The global importance of the many-sided contributions of Assange and WikiLeaks would be missed if they were regarded merely as a source or as a transmitter of large amounts of leaked information,” the six journalists and writers said in the statement. “The journalism WikiLeaks and its Editor-in-Chief stand for is a journalism of outrage – outrage against the injustices and atrocities that take place round the world –but always with an eye to factuality, substantiation, and precision.”

Pointing out the flaw in the federal charge brought against the journalist, the signatories pointed out that “if the US had charged Assange and Wikileaks for publishing classified material, the legal case would have been no different from charging The New York Times with publishing the Pentagon Papers”.

They added that without legal protection guaranteeing the right to protect sources and the freedom to publish, journalists will not be able to speak truth to power. “We demand that Assange be set free immediately. We demand that the authorities concerned take the necessary steps to preserve the sanctity of journalistic practice. We call upon journalists and readers everywhere to raise our voices against the persecution of free, independent, and fearless journalism.”