Prosecuting WikiLeaks for publishing activities poses a profound threat to press freedom

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Promoting press freedom in the 21st century

Assange
Uwe Steinert

On Thursday night Justice Department prosecutors inadvertently published court documents that strongly suggest that the Trump administration has secretly filed charges against WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange. Shortly afterwards, the Washington Post confirmed that charges have indeed been filed against Assange.

While it’s so far unclear what the charges are, news organizations have speculated they may involve the Espionage Act, the 100 year old law that—on its face—threatens the ability of journalists to do their jobs and could criminalize national security reporting. The Espionage Act has, up until this point, never been used to prosecute a journalist or publisher.

Trevor Timm, executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation, has issued the following statement:

“Any charges brought against WikiLeaks for their publishing activities pose a profound and incredibly dangerous threat to press freedom. Whether you like Assange or hate him, the theories used in a potential Espionage Act prosecution would threaten countless reporters at the New York Times, Washington Post, and the many other news outlets that report on government secrets all the time. While everyone will have to wait and see what the charges detail, it’s quite possible core First Amendment principles will be at stake in this case.”

We will have much more analysis and comment as this case develops.


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