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The U.S. Department of Justice indicted Julian Assange under the Espionage Act Thursday in a serious escalation of the Trump administration’s war on the press.
The 18-count indictment charges Assange with several crimes, namely unlawfully obtaining and disclosing national defense information.
The charges revolve around Assange’s interaction with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who shared classified national security cables with WikiLeaks in 2010. The indictment alleges that Assange went beyond normal reporting techniques and effectively aided Manning in her alleged attempts to steal cables from Pentagon computer systems.
“Assange then published on WikiLeaks classified documents that contained the unredacted names of human sources who provided information to United States forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to U.S. State Department diplomats around the world,” according to a DOJ press release.
The new charges come several weeks after British authorities hauled the WikiLeaks co-founder out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London in connection with multiple legal threats, including an extradition request by the United States. At the time, U.S. prosecutors slapped assange with conspiracy charges related to his interactions with Manning. Thursday’s indictment charges Assange with 17 additional charges.
Press freedom advocates breathed a sigh of relief at the time. They had long feared that Assange would be charged under the 1917 Espionage Act, a law initially designed to curtail speech damaging to the U.S. government. The Obama and Trump administrations have charged a number of national security whistleblowers under the century old law.
The Obama and Trump administrations have gone after an unprecedented number of national security leakers under the century old law. But Obama’s Justice Department never went so far as to charge the WikiLeaks co-founder under the Espionage Act.
“I think the Obama administration acted wisely in not indicting Mr. Assange, with respect to this very conduct of which he is now accused,” First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams told VICE News. “While I have often voiced significant criticism of Assange for what I consider his frequent misbehavior, the indictment today does raise serious First Amendment issues for journalists who cover national security, national defense, intelligence activities and the like.”
Greg Walters contributed reporting to this post.
Cover image: A supporter of Julian Assange, with a poster of the WikiLeaks founder, joins other protesters to block a major road in front of Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Thursday, May 2, 2019. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is facing court over a U.S. request to extradite him for alleged computer hacking. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
This article originally appeared on VICE US.