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Assange Indicted Under Espionage Act In Unprecedented Blow To Press Freedom

Above photo: From Stop the Wars at Home and Abroad.

Note: Finally, the corporate media seems to be waking up to the reality that the prosecution of Julian Assange is a threat to Freedom of the Press in the United States and around the world. The charges against Assange represent a sharp escalation against the media since this is the first time a publisher has been indicted under the law. With these most recent indictments the media, which has been silent when it comes to the prosecution of Julian Assange, is beginning to speak out against the prosecution.

The Hill reported:

Executive editors from top newspapers including The Washington Post and The New York Times voiced alarm over the Trump administration charging WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the Espionage Act, with Post executive editor Marty Baron arguing the decision “undermines the very purpose of the First Amendment.”

New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet wrote on Thursday, May 23rd:

“Obtaining and publishing information that the government would prefer to keep secret is vital to journalism and democracy. The new indictment is a deeply troubling step toward giving the government greater control over what Americans are allowed to know.”

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said that the charges pose “a dire threat”; the Freedom of the Press Foundation called them “terrifying.” The Columbia Journalism Review wrote: “With yesterday’s indictment, however, this story is no longer really about Assange. It’s the clearest example yet that in the US, the practice of journalism is at risk.”

Claiming Assange is not a journalist creates serious problems. “The question isn’t whether Assange is a journalist, but whether the government’s legal theory threatens freedom of the press,” Carrie DeCell, a staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, wrote on Twitter. “It does. The government argues that Assange violated the Espionage Act by soliciting, obtaining, and then publishing classified information. That’s exactly what good national security and investigative journalists do every day.”

Tech Crunch summarized the reality in an article titled: National security journalism just became a national security threat which argued that the “charges against Julian Assange will threaten press freedom.” It is time for the mass media to join with others in calling for dropping the charges against Assange and for the Department of Justice to stop threatening Freedom of the Press.


The Assange Prosecution is a Direct Assault On The First Amendment

[May 23, 2019] Earlier today, the US Justice Department announced 18 additional criminal charges in a superseding indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The additional charges against Assange raise the possibility that he could face the death penalty if extradited to the United States.

At this time is remains under the purview of the UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid to consent to Assange’s extradition to the US, both directly from the UK and in the case of onward extradition to the US from Sweden.

Reuters reports the Justice Department’s allegation that Assange “unlawfully published the names of classified sources and conspired with and assisted ex-Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in obtaining access to classified information.” The New York Times described the situation as a “novel case that raises profound First Amendment issues.”

Julian Assange’s attorney Barry Pollack responded to the news, saying: “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.”

Journalists, press freedom organizations and other figures were quick to respond to the additional charges laid against Assange. Award-winning journalist and filmmaker John Pilger wrote via social media:

“Assange’s motives or membership in an undefinable “journalist” club are irrelevant to the very dangerous step that the Trump DOJ took today. We’ll now find out whether *publishing* information (as well as seeking and obtaining it) may constitutionally be charged as espionage,” Tweeted Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Barton Gellman.

The New York Times indicated that a “Justice Department official who stayed behind to answer questions on the condition that he would not be named would not address any about how most of the basic actions the indictment deemed felonies by Mr. Assange differed in a legally meaningful way from ordinary national-security investigative journalism — working with sources to obtain secret information of news value and publishing that information without the government’s permission.”

The ACLU responded, writing: “For the first time in the history of our country, the government has brought criminal charges under the Espionage Act against a publisher for the publication of truthful information. This is a direct assault on the First Amendment. These charges are an extraordinary escalation of the Trump administration’s attacks on journalism, establishing a dangerous precedent that can be used to target all news organizations that hold the government accountable by publishing its secrets.”

The ACLU added: “The charges against Assange are equally dangerous for US journalists who uncover the secrets of other nations. If the US can prosecute a foreign publisher for violating our secrecy laws, there’s nothing preventing China, or Russia, from doing the same.”

As previously noted by Consortium News,its founder and investigative journalist Robert Parry wrote in 2010 that Assange’s conduct surrounding the material supplied by Chelsea Manning was identical to the methods traditionally used by investigative journalists.

Parry wrote: “Such behavior – whether cajoling a nervous government official to expose a secret or exploiting some unauthorized access to classified material – is part of what an investigative journalist does in covering national security abuses. The traditional rule of thumb has been that it’s the government’s job to hide the secrets and a reporter’s job to uncover them.”

Yale Fellow and Assistant Professor with the Kline School of Law Hannah Bloch-Wehba echoed these sentiments, writing via Twitter: “The relationship between Assange and Manning is not readily distinguishable from many reporter-source relationships cultivated over a period of time.”

Bloch-Weba continued: “This suggests that liability might be predicated on relationships or activities that look an awful lot like newsgathering.”

Shortly before being re-imprisoned for her refusal to testify before a grand jury impaneled against Assange last week, Chelsea Manning also told the press that the Trump Administration “clearly wants to go after journalists” and predicted that the Justice Department would prosecute reporters covering national security and other “disruptive” topics.

Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, said of the additional charges: “Put simply, these unprecedented charges against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are the most significant and terrifying threat to the First Amendment in the 21st century.”

According to a documented penned by Assange’s legal representatives in 2013, the UK Home Secretary is responsible for prioritizing Assange’s extradition in the case of multiple pending extradition requests. The document additionally explains that while the UK Home Secretary can veto Assange’s onward extradition from Sweden to the United States, it is politically unlikely that such a veto would occur.

Assange was initially charged with illegally accessing a government computer shortly after his April 11 expulsion from the Ecuadorian Embassy and simultaneous arrest by UK authorities. The allegation against Assange was often misreported as hacking into a government computer when in fact, the material forming the basis of the indictment had been public since 2011 and showed that Assange had tried to aid Manning in preserving anonymity while accessing material she had legally sanctioned access to at the time.

Assange’s first extradition hearing is set to take place on May 30th, and the US must reveal all charges against Assange by June 14th. Assange supporters will protest the May 30th hearing from 9:00 am outside the Westminster Magistrates Court.

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