US slaps Assange with 17 new charges including violating Espionage Act
The US Justice Department added 17 new charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, citing the US Espionage Act. The charges against Assange stem from 2010, when he published military and diplomatic files, naming and exposing confidential sources in the Middle East and China.
Assange had claimed that he was a journalist, an assertion the Justice Department rejected. He claimed that he only published the files that Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst, gave to him, which falls under freedom of the press, the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
"The department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy," said Assistant Attorney General John Demers. “But Julian Assange is no journalist.
"No responsible act of journalism would purposely publish the names of individuals he or she knew to be confidential sources in war zones, exposing them to the gravest of dangers," said Demers.
The Justice Department said Assange worked with Manning to steal confidential and classified files "with reason to believe that the information was to be used to the injury of the United States or the advantage of a foreign nation".
The 40-page indictment also notes that the US State Department had called on Assange in 2010 to remove the names of sensitive and confidential sources from the files on Afghanistan, China, Iraq, Iran and Syria, which included journalists, political dissidents, religious leaders, and human rights workers. He refused.
"Assange's actions risked serious harm to United States national security to the benefit of our adversaries and put the unredacted named human sources at a grave and imminent risk of serious physical harm and/or arbitrary detention," according to the charges.
Assange is in jail in the UK for jumping bail after leaving the safety of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. In 11 months he will be released and has a US extradition request awaiting him with these 18 charges.
The UK has not indicated whether it will accept the US request.
"The charges brought against Julian Assange under the Espionage Act pose a direct threat to press freedom and investigative journalism, both of which are undermined when those who inform the public are prosecuted for sounding the alarm," said Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based media watchdog group.
WikiLeaks started publishing diplomatic cables from US databases in 2010 that were provided by Manning that outlined possible acts of espionage, torture and war crimes, and included interesting commentary by diplomats and others on the countries they were working in or visiting.
Washington under the Obama Administration went after Manning, but did not go after WikiLeaks until it was revealed that the document dump site had allegedly published materials stolen by Russian hackers that swayed the 2016 US presidential election.
The charges show that Assange was a co-conspirator of "whistleblower" Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2013 but whose sentence was commuted by Obama in 2017. She was sent back to prison this year after refusing to cooperate with the Assange investigation.