Julian Assange charged under Espionage Act in unprecedented attack on First Amendment

24 May 2019 — Defend Wikileaks

Today federal prosecutors unsealed a new, 18-count superseding indictment charging Julian Assange with violating the Espionage Act, the first use of the 1917 law against a publisher.

Julian Assange’s attorney Barry Pollack said:

Today the government charged Julian Assange under the Espionage Act for encouraging sources to provide him truthful information and for publishing that information. The fig leaf that this is merely about alleged computer hacking has been removed. 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 taken by the U.S. government.

Superseding indictment

Assange-indictment (PDF)

Journalists, commentators and free press groups are denouncing the indictment and the threat it poses to journalism everywhere:

Freedom of the Press Foundation:

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 criminalize 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 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.

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

Any government use of the Espionage Act to criminalize the receipt and publication of classified information poses a dire threat to journalists seeking to publish such information in the public interest, irrespective of the Justice Department’s assertion that Assange is not a journalist.


For the first time in the history of our country, the government has brought criminal charges against a publisher for the publication of truthful information. This is an extraordinary escalation of the Trump administration’s attacks on journalism, and a direct assault on the First Amendment. It establishes a dangerous precedent that can be used to target all news organizations that hold the government accountable by publishing its secrets. And it is equally dangerous for U.S. journalists who uncover the secrets of other nations. If the US can prosecute a foreign publisher for violating our secrecy laws, there’s nothing preventing China, or Russia, from doing the same.

I find no satisfaction in saying ‘I told you so’ to those who for 9 years have scorned us for warning this moment would come. I care for journalism. If you share my feeling you take a stand NOW. Either you are a worthless coward or you defend Assange, WikiLeaks and Journalism. https://t.co/NkUfZWYan8

— Kristinn Hrafnsson (@khrafnsson) May 23, 2019

The war on Julian #Assange is now a war on all. Eighteen absurd charges including espionage send a burning message to every journalist, every publisher. The target today is #Assange. Tomorrow it will be you on the New York Times, you on the BBC. Modern fascism is breaking cover.

— John Pilger (@johnpilger) May 23, 2019

Countless organizations confirmed that Julian #Assange is a journalist. It is undeniable. A journalist, registered. A publisher, awarded. The case against @wikileaks is a threat against investigative journalism, globally.

— Renata Avila (@avilarenata) May 23, 2019

The Department of Justice just declared war––not on Wikileaks, but on journalism itself. This is no longer about Julian Assange: This case will decide the future of media. https://t.co/a5WHmTCDpg

— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) May 23, 2019

All those who spent the last 2+ years proclaiming to be so very concerned about attacks on a free press will now have to decide whether they really meant it, or whether – due to feelings about Assange – they will cheer the Trump Administration’s frontal assault on press freedom: https://t.co/4yW1DB58wP

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 23, 2019

regardless of what you think about wikileaks or julian
assange, an espionage act prosecution can only turn out badly for press
freedom in this country https://t.co/3GpLSUdL4N

David Kaye (@davidakaye) May
23, 2019

Again: the reason Assange sought asylum and Ecuador gave it wasn’t to hide from the Sweden case. He & Ecuador always said he’d go to Sweden if they promised not to send him to the US. The asylum was to protect him against this: *espionage* prosecution for *publishing documents.*

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 23, 2019

Again: the reason Assange sought asylum and Ecuador gave it wasn’t to hide from the Sweden case. He & Ecuador always said he’d go to Sweden if they promised not to send him to the US. The asylum was to protect him against this: *espionage* prosecution for *publishing documents.*

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 23, 2019

Just your on-going reminder that everything Julian #Assange and #WikiLeaks staff, their legal reps, and the Correa government of Ecuador said about his persecution by the US and the decisions to seek and grant asylum is coming to pass. Exactly as predicted.

— WISE Up Action (@WISEUpAction) May 23, 2019

Assange’s motives or membership in an undefinable “journalist” club are irrelevant to the very dangerous step that the Trump DOJ took today. We’ll now find out whether *publishing* information (as well as seeking and obtaining it) may constitutionally be charged as espionage.

— Barton Gellman (@bartongellman) May 23, 2019

A few quick thoughts about the Assange indictment—this is a worst-case, nightmare, mayday scenario for First Amendment enthusiasts 1/

— Hannah Bloch-Wehba (@HBWHBWHBW) May 23, 2019

It’s sick to watch liberals cheer the prosecution of Assange by Trump’s Justice Department, headed by William “Exonerate the Iran Contra Criminals” Barr, as though this prosecution is not a massive attack on press freedom, rather some gotcha about the 2016 election. It’s deranged

— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) May 23, 2019

Julian Assange has just been charged with 17 new counts under the Espionage Act. None of this is about 2016, the election or allegations in Sweden. This is about attacking journalism and the public’s right to information about war crimes done in their name with their dollars. https://t.co/Go6lYWVPmO

— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) May 23, 2019

The issue isn’t whether Assange is a “journalist”; this will be a major test case because the text of the _Espionage Act_ doesn’t distinguish between what Assange allegedly did and what mainstream outlets sometimes do, even if the underlying facts/motives are radically different.

— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) May 23, 2019

If #Assange
is extradited to the United States of Trump, not only journalism and
freedom of press, but democracy itself will be extradited from Europe.
It is not only UK, but #Europe
that has the historical responsibility to prevent this. @DiEM25 https://t.co/tmebEtSJld

Srećko Horvat (@HorvatSrecko) May
23, 2019

Today the Trump DOJ becomes the first administration to ever
charge a publisher with *espionage* — an assertive, unprecedented legal
crackdown on the traditional rights and protections for publishers.

That is a legal fact, regardless of one’s views of Julian

— Ari Melber (@AriMelber) May
23, 2019

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