The grand jury indictment, unveiled on Thursday, carries a maximum sentence of between five and 10 years for each charge. The US has already sought his extradition to face charges of computer hacking and being involved in a compromise of classified information, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of five years.
A special shoutout to all those pundits & politicians who were assuring us Assange's case isn't an attack on press freedom because it was about trying to break a password.— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) May 23, 2019
"The superseding indictment alleges that Assange was complicit with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the US Army, in unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to the national defence," the Justice Department said in a statement.
Assange was arrested by British police on 11 April after taking refuge in the Ecuador embassy in London after the South American nation offered him asylum. This was withdrawn in April and Assange appeared in court shortly thereafter.
New Assange charges set a major precedent that could be used to prosecute journalists for the work we do every day. https://t.co/xcvCLxV1Ic— Eric Geller (@ericgeller) May 23, 2019
Thursday's charges claim Assange "engaged in real-time discussions regarding Manning's transmission of classified records to Assange" and "actively encouraged" Manning to hack into a military computer network.
Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning before a change of sex, has been jailed twice recently for refusing to testify before a grand jury that is investigating WikiLeaks. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison originally but had her sentence commuted by former US president Barack Obama in 2017.
The issue isn't whether Assange is a "journalist"; this will be a major test case because the text of the _Espionage Act_ doesn't distinguish between what Assange allegedly did and what mainstream outlets sometimes do, even if the underlying facts/motives are radically different.— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) May 23, 2019
The indictment claimed that Assange had published "classified documents that contained the unredacted names of human sources who provided information to US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to US State Department diplomats around the world".
It said Manning had used her access as an intelligence analyst to provide "to Assange and WikiLeaks databases containing approximately 90,000 Afghanistan war-related significant activity reports, 400,000 Iraq war-related significant activities reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, and 250,000 US Department of State cables".
No matter your thoughts on Julian Assange, the latest indictments—under the outdated Espionage Act—are a disgrace. If you support the indictments out of hate for him, you're giving Trump a weapon to restrict the press. The charges should be dropped and the Espionage Act repealed.— Mike Gravel (@MikeGravel) May 23, 2019
Trevor Timms, executive director of the non-profit Freedom of the Press Foundation, said in a statement: "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.
"The Trump administration is moving to explicitly criminalise national security journalism, and if this prosecution proceeds, dozens of reporters at The New York Times, Washington Post and elsewhere would also be in danger.
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.— ACLU (@ACLU) May 23, 2019
"The ability of the press to publish facts the government would prefer remain secret is both critical to an informed public and a fundamental right.
"This decision by the Justice Department is a massive and unprecedented escalation in [US President Donald] Trump’s war on journalism, and it’s no exaggeration to say the First Amendment itself is at risk. Anyone who cares about press freedom should immediately and wholeheartedly condemn these charges."