Assange Charged Under Espionage Act: Snowden Says This is ‘War on Journalism’

Julian Assange Wiki Leaks founder faces 17 more charges in new U.S. indictment

Julian Assange arrives at court in London in April

But prosecutors on Thursday pushed back Assange's defense, saying that he aided and abetted the theft of classified documents and ignored warnings that publishing the information would jeopardize sources.

Assange said in an August 2010 interview that it was "regrettable" that sources disclosed by WikiLeaks could be harmed, according to the indictment.

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.

On Thursday, the US Department of Justice unsealed 17 charges against the WikiLeaks founder. The new charges rely on the Espionage Act, which dates to the World War I era and is created to protect the handling of classified information. They described how Assange worked with Manning to improperly access Defense Department computers to gain access to thousands of pages of material and encouraged her as she delved through databases for information. First, WikiLeak source Chelsea Manning's prosecution showcased circumstantial evidence that Assange may have helped Manning get the documents, rather than simply receiving them after the fact.

Julian Assange didn't work for the USA government and owe them a duty of confidentiality, nor did he break into systems nor pay for secrets like a spy.

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It said the WikiLeaks founder damaged national security by publishing documents that harmed the USA and its allies.

The indictment also raises questions about the precise scope of the Espionage Act, which was passed in 1917 - shortly after the United States entered World War I - to prevent leaks of confidential information during wartime. He called those activities "crucial to investigative journalism, and crucial to the public's ability to understand government policy and conduct". The indictment also argues that Assange can not be considered a "reporter" for purposes of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of the press.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said the case was a "dire threat" to media freedom.

"Today the government charged Julian Assange under the Espionage Act for encouraging sources to provide him truthful information and for publishing that information", Assange's attorney Barry J Pollack said in a statement.

The Trump Administration's decision to charge Assange for attracting - and then publishing - classified material is expected to provoke blowback on First Amendment grounds.

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The move has chilled not only reporters but also lawyers and global free-speech experts, who see an administration that has always been hostile to the press now moving closer to a potential crackdown.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers claims that Julian Assange is not a journalist.

Julian Assange has been slammed with 18 charges as the United States steps up its bid to extradite him there.

Assange lived under asylum in the Ecuadoran embassy in London until last month. Swedish authorities have also begun to seek Assange's extradition on some of the rape charges.

In the meantime, British authorities will have to decide whether to prioritise the USA or Swedish claims first.

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