The Justice Department has charged Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, with violating the Espionage Act. Assange is the first publisher charged under the Espionage Act.
The Justice Department announced Thursday that Assange will be charged with 17 counts of receiving or publishing military and diplomatic documents and classified sources. The specific documents in question came from Chelsea Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst who was convicted in 2013 and sentenced to 35 years in prison. Former President Barack Obama commuted her sentence shortly before leaving office.
Manning has found herself in new trouble after refusing to testify in front of a grand jury investigating Wikileaks. Manning has been held in contempt of court, but vowed that she will spend the rest of her days behind bars before testifying to a grand jury. Manning has said she objects to the secrecy that goes hand-in-hand with grand juries.
Julian Assange has had a complicated road for the last few years. He was arrested last month in London after being evicted from the Ecuadorian embassy where he was granted asylum for some time. He is currently doing his best to fight extradition to the United States where he was already charged with conspiracy to hack a Pentagon computer in 2010.
Assange is currently serving time in jail for skipping bail. While on bail, Assange was facing sexual assault allegations in Sweden, allegations he has denied.
The new charges from the United States say Assange “repeatedly encouraged sources with access to classified information to steal and provide it to Wikileaks to disclose.”
They also say Assange caused irreparable harm through his actions. They say he “revealed the names of human sources and created a grave and imminent risk to human life.”
Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in a public statement that he does not consider Assange to be a journalist so the 47-year-old should not receive the same protections that journalists do.
“The department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy … but Julian Assange is no journalist,” he said. “Indeed, 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.”
Source: Fox News
Wikileaks responded to the charges on Twitter saying the Justice Department’s actions mean the first amendment is in trouble. “This is madness. It is the end of national security journalism and the first amendment.”
No matter what happens to Assange and his potential extradition to the United States, these charges are sure to inspire a fiery debate on the first amendment.
Ben Wizner, an advocate and lawyer with the ACLU, said in a public statement that Assange’s charges could spell an uncertain future for publishers and journalists.
“For the first time in the history of our country, the government has brought criminal charges against a publisher for the publication of truthful information,” Wizner said.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden also blasted the new charges and said the Department of Justice has “declared war” on journalism.
“The Department of Justice just declared war — not on Wikileaks, but on journalism itself. This is no longer about Julian Assange: This case will decide the future of media,” he wrote.
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