24, May 2019
The US Justice Department has charged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with espionage by publishing hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic files about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Justice Department said Thursday that Assange had violated the US Espionage Act by conspiring with and assisting ex-Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in obtaining access to classified information.
Assange faces a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison in the US if convicted of all the charges against him.
“These unprecedented charges demonstrate the gravity of the threat the criminal prosecution of Julian Assange poses to all journalists in their endeavor to inform the public about actions that have been taken by the US government,” said Barry Pollack, an American attorney for Assange.
The Justice Department said Assange aided and encouraged Manning with the theft of classified materials.
Manning was arrested in May 2010 and convicted by court martial in 2013 of espionage in connection with the 2010 Wikileaks disclosures.
The US President Barack Obama reduced Manning’s sentence to 7 years from 35 years, but she is now in jail after repeatedly refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating Assange.
Assange is now fighting extradition to the United States, after Ecuador in April revoked his seven-year asylum in the country’s embassy in London.
He was arrested on April 11 by British police as he left the embassy.
He is now serving a 50-week sentence in a London jail for skipping bail when he fled to the Ecuadorean embassy in 2012.
Under extradition rules, the United States had only a 60-day window from the date of Assange’s arrest in London to add more charges. After that, foreign governments do not generally accept superseding charges.
Legal experts say the decision to charge Assange with espionage crimes is unusual since most cases involving the theft of classified information have targeted government employees, like Manning, and not the people who publish the information itself.
Following Assange’s arrest, prosecutors in Sweden re-opened a criminal investigation into allegations that Assange sexually assaulted a woman during a visit to Stockholm. Swedish authorities recently sent British authorities a fresh request for Assange’s extradition.
The decision regarding which country should have its chance to prosecute him first is now in the hands of UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid.