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Assange Indicted On 17 Espionage Charges

Above: Free Assange protest outside of British Embassy in Washington DC from

For the first time in history, a publisher and editor has been charged under the Espionage Act. The prosecution of Julian Assange is an attack on Freedom of the Press that will make it less likely that the media will critically cover actions of the government especially when it comes to military and intelligence activities. This indictment is a blow to our right to know and undermines Constitutional guarantees.

This indictment should raise alarms in newsrooms across the globe. A foreign journalist who publishes truthful information that is critical of the US security state and militarism is being forcibly brought to the United States to be prosecuted. This threatens not only news reporters in the United States but anywhere in the world. War crimes by the United States need to be exposed. This indictment increases the likelihood that they will go unreported. 

When Assange was removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy, he was charged with conspiracy with Chelsea Manning who provided documents to Wikileaks in 2010. The superseding indictment announced today against Assange includes 17 additional charges under the Espionage Act involving the unlawful obtaining and disclosure of national defense information.

Wikileaks tweeted that the new indictment was the end of national security journalism:

Assange’s attorney Barry Pollack said:

“Today the government charged Julian Assange under the Espionage Act for encouraging sources to provide him truthful information and for publishing that information. The fig leaf that this is merely about alleged computer hacking has been removed. These unprecedented charges demonstrate the gravity of the threat the criminal prosecution of Julian Assange poses to all journalists in their endeavor to inform the public about actions that have taken by the U.S. government.”

The new indictment (read the indictment here) says Assange released a list of his organization’s “Most Wanted Leaks” to encourage people to provide military and intelligence documents. According to the indictment, Manning appeared to have responded to Assange’s public solicitation, searching the classified Pentagon network for some of the same terms highlighted by WikiLeaks, such as “interrogation videos.” The indictment describes a conspiracy where “Assange, WikiLeaks affiliates and Manning shared the common objective to subvert lawful restrictions on classified information and to publicly disseminate it.” 

The New York Times, which has been silent on the Assange investigation and previous indictment, finally raised First Amendment concerns, writing:

The Justice Department’s decision to pursue Espionage Act charges signals a dramatic escalation under President Trump to crack down on leaks of classified information and aims squarely at First Amendment protections for journalists. Most recently, law enforcement officials charged a former intelligence analyst with giving classified documents to The Intercept, a national security news website.

Legal scholars believe that prosecuting reporters over their work would violate the First Amendment, but the prospect has not yet been tested in court because the government had never charged a journalist under the Espionage Act.

Though he is not a conventional journalist, much of what Mr. Assange does at WikiLeaks is difficult to distinguish in a legally meaningful way from what traditional news organizations like The New York Times do: seek and publish information that officials want to be secret, including classified national security matters, and take steps to protect the confidentiality of sources.

The Washington Post which has also not raised alarms around the First Amendment implications of Assange’s prosecution wrote in regard to the new indictments “The new charges dramatically raise the stakes of the case both for Assange and the news media, raising questions about the limits of the First Amendment and protections for publishers of classified information. . . the new charges against Assange carry potential consequences not just for him, but for others who publish classified information, and could change the delicate balance in U.S. law between press freedom and government secrecy.”

President Obama indicted more people under the Espionage Act than all previous presidents combined, but never prosecuted Assange under the Act reportedly out of concerns that such a case could chill traditional journalism as it would be too difficult to distinguish WikiLeaks from other news organizations. The Espionage Act was not written to target journalists but was written during World War I to target spies and traitors. Until Obama, the Act had been used intermittently, including when the government prosecuted Daniel Ellsberg for publication of the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War.

Assange is currently serving a 50-week sentence after a judge in the UK found him guilty of violating his bail conditions. He lived in the Ecuadorian Embassy for 7 years where he received asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden, where a controversial sexual assault investigation was ongoing until it was dropped last year. Sweden recently re-opened the investigation and is also seeking Assange’s extradition. 

Chelsea Manning remains in custody for refusing to cooperate with a federal grand jury investigation of Julian Assange. This is the second time this year she has been jailed for refusing to testify.  A judge has ordered her jailed until she complies, or until the term of the grand jury expires. It is unclear whether these indictments will end the grand jury and she will be released or whether the grand jury is continuing its investigation. Manning told the judge at the time she would “rather starve to death” than testify.


The Prosecution Of Julian Assange Is A Threat To Journalists Everywhere
Julian Assange Arrested, Take Action Now
Julian Assange: At The Forefront Of 21st Century Journalism
Chelsea Manning Returns To Jail In ‘Unprecedented’ Ruling
Sweden Reopens 9-Year Old Rape Investigation Against Julian Assange; Seeks His Arrest And Extradition

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