Friday, May 24, 2019

Journalism is not espionage

The US has charged Wikileaks editor Julian Assange with espionage

Julian Assange could face decades in a US prison after being charged with violating the Espionage Act by publishing classified information through WikiLeaks.

Prosecutors announced 17 additional charges against Assange for publishing hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables and files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.


“Assange’s actions risked serious harm to United States national security to the benefit of our adversaries,” the justice department said in a statement. Officials said the publication of secret files by WikiLeaks was “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States”.

The WikiLeaks founder faces a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison in the US if convicted of all the charges against him.

No matter what you think of Assange, this is a threat to freedom of the press around the world. The core of these charges is that Assange received and republished information the US considered to be secret. And that is the basic job of every real journalist everywhere. As the saying goes, news is what someone doesn't want you to print. Everything else is public relations.

Countless US-based journalists reporting on foreign affairs, America's wars, and its military-espionage-industrial complex have done exactly what Assange has done. With these charges, the US government has labelled them all as criminals. And that is downright dangerous.

The good news: the US-UK extradition treaty specifically forbids extradition for offences of a political character. And "espionage" is by its nature political, recognised in international law as covered by this exception. So the US has just handed Assange a slam-dunk argument to avoid extradition, and while UK ministers (as good little US vassals) may be willing to sign the papers, I have confidence that the UK judiciary will not let them. If the US wants to prosecute Assange for this, they will have to kidnap him. Sadly, given the current state of the world, that's not something which can be ruled out...