In Brief

Julian Assange faces new US spying charges

WikiLeaks co-founder could face decades in prison if convicted

The US Justice Department has filed 17 new charges against Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange.

He is accused of violating the Espionage Act by publishing hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables and files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The WikiLeaks founder “could face decades in a US prison” as a result of the charges, The Guardian reports. CNN says the latest development has “alarmed free speech advocates who say it threatens to criminalise legitimate journalistic practices”.

The use of the Espionage Act to prosecute Assange signifies “a dramatic escalation in the government's pursuit of him”, says CBS News, while the BBC describes the charges as unusual. “Most cases involving the theft of classified information have targeted government workers and not the people who published it,” the broadcaster reports.

The new indictment, approved by a grand jury in Virginia, accuses Assange of publishing classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010.

It says he “repeatedly encouraged sources with access to classified information to steal and provide it to WikiLeaks to disclose” and helped former intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to “crack a password hash [code] to a military computer”.

It also accuses him of putting the lives of Afghan, Iraqi, Chinese and Iranian sources at risk.

In all, he faces one count of conspiracy to receive national defence material, seven charges of obtaining it, nine charges of disclosing it and the original charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

“Assange’s actions risked serious harm to United States national security to the benefit of our adversaries,” said the US Justice Department, in “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States”.

But WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson described the new charges as “the evil of lawlessness in its purest form”.

Assange, 47, is serving a jail sentence in the UK for skipping bail. He was arrested on 11 April after Ecuador abruptly withdrew his asylum.

Swedish authorities are also seeking his extradition after reopening an investigation into a rape allegation made against him in 2010.

Manning was jailed in 2013 for her role in leaking secret military files to WikiLeaks, but her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in 2017.

She is currently back in jail after refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks.

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