The US Justice Department unveiled 17 new counts under the Espionage Act against WikiLeaks founder Assange. A federal grand jury in Virginia has indicted Australian-born Assange on these felony charges for allegedly playing a major role in the unlawful publication of names of classified sources, on top of allegedly conspiring and assisting ex-Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in obtaining access to classified Government information.
Among the documents published on WikiLeaks, there were State Department cables and reports on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The superseding indictment comes after Assange was charged in March with conspiring with Manning to gain access to a Government computer as part of his attempt to leak hundreds of thousands of US military reports in 2010.
The Justice Department said in a statement: “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 indictment, which includes a total of 18 felony charges, alleges that 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.
Chelsea Manning was arrested in 2010 and sentenced for espionage to 35 years at the maximum-security US Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.
However, she served seven years in prison before as her sentence was commuted by former US President Barack Obama shortly before he left office, in January 2017.
She was jailed once again in March 2019 for refusing to appear before the jury investigating WikiLeaks and testify against Assange.
The allegations regarding the violation of the Espionage Act has raised concerns regarding the real freedom of speech among some journalists and those defending Assange’s actions.
WikiLeaks has tweeted in response to the charges, saying: “This is madness. It is the end of national security journalism and the first amendment.”
But John Demers, the Justice Department’s Assistant Attorney General for National Security, claimed there is a difference between a journalist reporting the truth and Assange’s actions.
He said: “The Department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy and we thank you for it.
“It has not and never has been the Department’s policy to target them for reporting.
“But Julian Assange is no journalist.”
The Espionage Act of 1917 was born with the intent of prohibiting any interference with military operations or recruitment, to prevent insubordination in the military, and to prevent the support of United States enemies during wartime.
Assange has been evicted from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he sought political asylum in 2012, on April 11, and shortly after sentenced by the Westminster Magistrates’ Court to 50 weeks of jail for breaking bail.