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24.05.2019

Charging WikiLeaks founder Assange under the Espionage Act is a threat to press freedom and investigative journalism

by ECPMF

The American Justice Department (DOJ) has charged WikilLeaks founder Julian Assange under the Espionage Act. This is alarming press freedom supporters around the globe.

Charging Assange under the Espionage Act is a threat to press freedom Julian Assange in 2014. By Cancillería del Ecuador - https://www.flickr.com/photos/dgcomsoc/14933990406/, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

You can think what you want about Assange”, comments Henrik Kaufholz, ECPMF Chair of Executive Board, “but this is a disaster and may have implications for investigative journalism and press freedom everywhere. Regardless of whether one considers Assange a journalist or not, it bears the risk that it can be applied to journalists as well in a consequence.”

Publishing information in the public interest that others would like to keep secret is a common task of investigative journalists. Assange’s indictment could open the door to prosecuting reporters and whistleblowers for doing the same.

ECPMF Managing Director Lutz Kinkel adds: “The President of the US wants to see Assange behind bars because he published classified material. Whistleblowers and and publishers of leaked material are no foreign agents.

This indictment affects investigative journalism in general.”

18 additional chargers were revealed on Thursday 23 May. The alleged Espionage Act violations relate to Assange’s complicity with former US Army Private Chelsea Manning, who was convicted in July 2013 of violating the Espionage Act after she blew the whistle by releasing classified military information to WikiLeaks.

In April, UK authorities arrested Assange after the Ecuadorian Embassy in London withdrew his asylum. He had stayed in the embassy for seven years, over fears of being extradited to Sweden and from there to the United States to be prosecuted. The ECPMF published a statement, demanding that the prosecution must respect human rights and freedom of expression principles in the treatment of Assange.

Read here our interview from 2018 with former WikiLeaks editor Sarah Harrison.