The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday indicted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for a “computer hacking conspiracy,” a charge some corporate talking heads and reporters immediately touted as evidence that journalism is not under threat.
“Indictment of Assange charges him with hacking, not publishing, a crucial difference for First Amendment concerns,” tweeted David Lauter, Washington bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times.
But press freedom advocates, Assange’s attorneys, WikiLeaks staff, and other critics warned that the exact opposite is the case—and argued Assange’s extradition to the U.S. would set a dangerous precedent for journalists everywhere.
“There is no assurance that there would not be additional charges when he is on U.S. soil. And I think that this was an angle in the approach to increase the likelihood of him being extradited. That is obvious.”
—Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief
“This precedent means that any journalist can be extradited for prosecution in the United States for having published truthful information about the U.S.,” Jen Robinson, Assange’s attorney, told reporters during a press conference in London on Thursday.
Speaking alongside Robinson, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson argued the Justice Department’s seemingly narrow indictment of Assange for “hacking”—rather than a more sweeping charge for the act of publishing classified information—is an “obvious” ploy to boost the likelihood that the U.K. will extradite him to the United States.
“It is quite obvious the U.S. authorities have picked just one element of what they have been working on for a long time,” Hrafnsson said. “There is no assurance that there would not be additional charges when he is on U.S. soil. And I think, and I believe, that this was an angle in the approach to increase the likelihood of him being extradited. That is obvious.”
British authorities confirmed that Assange was arrested in part due to “an extradition warrant on behalf of the United States authorities.”
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