Published: Fri, May 24, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Charges against Julian Assange prompt outcry from journalism, civil liberties groups

Charges against Julian Assange prompt outcry from journalism, civil liberties groups

Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, has been hit with 17 new criminal charges by the US Justice Department for his role in obtaining and releasing classified government documents in 2010. Now, new USA charges have been added to a previous indictment: 17 counts of espionage.

The new Espionage Act charges go far beyond an initial indictment against Assange made public last month that accused him of conspiring with Manning to crack a defense computer password.

The indictment accuses Assange and WikiLeaks of having "repeatedly sought, obtained, and disseminated information that the United States classified due to the serious risk that unauthorized disclosure could harm the national security of the United States".

"Instead, the United States has only charged Assange for publishing a narrow set of classified documents in which Assange also allegedly published the unredacted names of innocent people who risked their safety and freedom to provide information to the United States and its allies".

The case centers on concerns about media freedoms and the publication of sensitive information, with prosecutors saying Assange strayed well outside protections offered by the First Amendment of the United States constitution. In 2010, WikiLeaks had released a tranche of military and diplomatic documents, including those pertaining to the USA wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, uncovering potential war crimes. Pursuing charges against officials who leak to news organizations under the World War I-era Espionage Act has become more common in recent years, but reporters and editors usually aren't themselves charged for publishing the leaked information.

The latest indictment alleges Assange published the names of confidential sources who provided sensitive information to USA forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and to State Department diplomats across the globe.

They are likely to trigger a battle over whether Assange was acting as a journalist - something he claims but the U.S. disputes.

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"Assange intended the "Most Wanted Leaks" list to encourage and cause individuals to illegally obtain and disclose protected information, including classified information, to WikiLeaks contrary to law", the indictment states. "This is an extraordinary escalation of the Trump administration's attacks on journalism, and a direct assault on the first amendment".

In a case with significant First Amendment implications, the US filed new charges Thursday against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Each charge carries a maximum 10-year sentence, the Justice Department said.

Last week, Manning was jailed again for refusing to testify to the grand jury investigating WikiLeaks.

In April, US prosecutors revealed that Assange was charged with one count of conspiracy for conspiring to hack a Pentagon computer system in 2010, CNN reported.

USA officials have applied to extradite Assange. She served seven years of a 35-year sentence before being granted clemency by Barack Obama.

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