Friday, 24 May 2019 06:35

US hits Assange with 17 charges under Espionage Act Featured

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US hits Assange with 17 charges under Espionage Act Courtesy YouTube

WikiLeaks publisher and founder Julian Assange has been hit with 17 new charges under the US Espionage Act over his alleged role in leaking documents from former US intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010, according to the US Department of Justice.

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.

"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 This was withdrawn in April and Assange appeared in court shortly thereafter.

He was later sentenced to 50 weeks in jail for skipping bail at the time he fled into the Ecuador embassy; at that time, he was wanted in Sweden for questioning on rape allegations made against him by two women. Sweden has subsequently reopened the rape probe and sought his extradition; it had dropped the charge and cancelled the warrant in May 2017.

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 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".

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 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."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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