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Appeal to President Obama for pardon in case of CIA whistleblower

This is an excerpt of a statement originally published on rsf.org on 15 October 2015.

Today, Holly Sterling, Jeffrey's wife, sent an open letter to President Obama to tell him about the real Jeffrey Sterling and ask for a presidential pardon. She shared parts of this letter this morning at a press conference at the National Press Club, co-hosted by Reporters Without Borders, ExposeFacts and RootsAction. It was the first time the wife of a convicted whistleblower has made such an appearance.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) takes this occasion to reiterate its concerns about the precedent set in the United States' government's case against former C.I.A. operative Jeffrey Sterling convicted of allegedly divulging classified information to New York Times reporter James Risen. Jeffrey Sterling is now in jail for merely talking to a journalist regularly. He was sentenced based only on circumstantial evidence.

On June 16, 2015 Jeffrey Sterling self-surrendered to the Englewood Federal Correctional Institution in Colorado, almost 900 miles from his home. After a long and grueling trial, this former CIA operative had been found guilty of 7 counts of espionage on January 26, 2015. Even if throughout his entire trial and to this day, Sterling maintains his innocence, he was sentenced in May to three and a half years in prison. Why? This is a long story. To sum up, Sterling was in touch with a journalist. And this is apparently a crime.

“Does the government have no shame in destroying one man's life and wasting tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money to punish a man who had the audacity to do two things: Stand up for his constitutional rights and utilize proper channels provided to him to express concern for the citizens of our country? ” asked Holly Sterling in her letter to the President.

In 2006, the New York Times journalist James Risen published a book entitled State of War which highlighted, among others, classified “operation Merlin” designed to derail Iran's nuclear program to which Jeffrey Sterling was assigned during his time at the C.I.A. On December 22, 2010 a grand jury indicted Sterling on multiple charges under the Espionage Act for revealing classified information to James Risen. The Department of Justice (DOJ) repeatedly threatened Risen with jail time if he did not reveal his source before finally backing off at the beginning of 2015.

Sterling went through proper channels to divulge his concerns about the classified operation during a briefing with the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in March 2003. Yet the jury found Sterling guilty as Risen's source. But the evidence that formed the basis of his conviction consisted only of multiple emails and telephone conversations between the two men, without any content to directly prove Sterling was the source. The content of most of these emails and phone conversations remains unknown. Only the metadata have been made public.

This spring, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote in a letter to the Judge presiding over Jeffrey's case: "Equality under the law, as a cornerstone of justice, is significantly at stake in the sentencing of Mr. Sterling. While I realize that no two cases are identical, the fact remains that charges akin to those for which Mr. Sterling was convicted have in recent years resulted in extremely disparate penalties.”

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