What just happened? Julian Assange could spend decades in a US prison after the justice department charged him with 17 new counts under the Espionage Act. These follow a previous charge of conspiring with former intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to gain access to the Pentagon network.
The 18-count indictment, which was handed down by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia, accuses Assange of working with Manning to obtain and publish thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010. It says that Assange "repeatedly encouraged sources with access to classified information to steal and provide it to WikiLeaks to disclose."
WikiLeaks responded to news of the indictment by tweeting: "This is madness. It is the end of national security journalism and the first amendment."
This is madness. It is the end of national security journalism and the first amendment. https://t.co/wlhsmsenFw— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) May 23, 2019
Some argue that Assange was merely publishing classified information that was in the public interest, which many journalists do, but Assistant Attorney General John Demers said he was “no journalist.”
"Indeed, no responsible act of journalism would purposely publish the names of individuals he or she knew to be confidential sources in war zones, exposing them to the gravest of dangers," he added.
Back in April, Assange was arrested after spending seven years hiding in Ecuador’s London embassy following the South American country’s withdrawal of his asylum claim. He is currently being held in the capital city’s Belmarsh prison following a 50-week sentence for skipping bail over charges of sexual assault and rape in Sweden.
It is now the job of UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid to decide whether to grant the extradition request of either the US or Sweden, which has reopened the investigation into the rape allegation.
After being convicted in 2013 for stealing classified records, Manning was released from a military prison in 2017. She served seven years of a 35-year sentence before being granted clemency by Barack Obama. Manning is now back in jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury that is related to the WikiLeaks inquiry.