US Hits Wikileaks Founder Assange With 18-Count Indictment

Cheryl Sanders
May 24, 2019

New York, May 23, 2019-The Trump administration today disclosed 17 new criminal charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the Espionage Act for unlawfully obtaining and disclosing national defense information.

The charges announced on Thursday all relate to chapters in the history of WikiLeaks before its involvement in Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.

According to the indictment, Assange is charged with conspiracy to receive national defense information, obtaining national defense information, disclosure of national defense information, and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

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 U.S. constitution.

The Justice Department said that in 2009, before Manning acted, WikiLeaks publicly solicited specific classified materials involving the USA wars in Afghanistan and Iraq so that it could publish the materials.

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

They noted, for example, that he promoted his site to a convention of European hackers and published a list of the classified information he sought as "The Most Wanted Leaks of 2009".

WikiLeaks used information from Manning to publish tens of thousands of U.S. government documents, including the names of people who helped American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and USA diplomats around the world.

Assange, meanwhile, is in British custody following his ejection earlier this year from his long self-imposed confinement in the embassy of Ecuador in London.

The US extradition request was unveiled within hours of Assange's arrest inside the Ecuadorean embassy.

"The factual allegations against Mr. Assange boil down to encouraging a source to provide him information and taking efforts to protect the identity of that source", Assange's attorney Barry Pollack said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Julian Assange has always been a lightning-rod for controversy, but the latest charges against him have journalism watchdog groups crying foul. In the initial arrest warrant, the US government described Assange as "encouraging" Manning, helping him to hack further into a classified database in order to get better material.

"Julian Assange is no journalist", said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, who heads the department's national security division.

The 18 counts carry with them a maximum jail sentence of 170 years, but there's no guarantee that Assange will face trial in the United States.

Department officials said they don't view Assange, who founded WikiLeaks in 2006, as a journalist.

The Department of Justice is defending he charges against Assange. Manning is now back in jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury that is related to the WikiLeaks inquiry.

Assange has said in court that he had no regrets about "journalism that had won many awards".

Manning was found guilty in 2013 of charges including espionage for leaking secret military files to Wikileaks, but her 35-year sentence was commuted by then-President Barack Obama.

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