WIKILEAKS founder Julian Assange was last night charged with 17 new counts of espionage for publishing classified documents.
The raft of new charges are in addition to an initial indictment accusing him of conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.
The pair are accused of engaging in a conspiracy to crack a US Defence Department computer.
This latest charge says Assange conspired with Manning to obtain and disclose classified national defence documents in 2010.
These include highly sensitive State Department cables and reports on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A charging doc says Assange’s actions “risked serious harm” to the United States.
The charge read: “Assange, WikiLeaks affiliates and Manning shared the common objective to subvert lawful restrictions on classified information and to publicly disseminate it.”
Prosecutors allege that Assange and WikiLeaks “repeatedly encouraged sources with access to classified information to steal it.”
The disclosures, prosecutors claim, contained the names of local Afghans and Iraqis who had given information to the US, as well as other confidential sources for the US government.
They said the releases “put innocent people in grave danger simply because they provided information to the United States.”
Each of the alleged 17 violations of the Espionage Act carries a potential ten-year prison sentence, the Washington Post reported.
It’s the first time in US history that anyone operating in a journalistic capacity has been charged under the act.
In response to the indictment, WikiLeaks tweeted: “This is madness.
“It is the end of national security journalism and the first amendment.”
A lawyer for Assange warned the “unprecedented charges” against his client threaten all journalists.
WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson labelled the new charges as “the evil of lawlessness in its purest form”.
He added: “With the indictment, the ‘leader of the free world’ dismisses the First Amendment – hailed as a model of press freedom around the world”.
Hrafnsson described the latest rap as “a blatant extraterritorial assault outside its border, attacking basic principles of democracy in Europe and the rest of the world.”
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Assange was arrested in London in April after being dragged out of the Ecuadorean Embassy.
He had been holed up in the sovereign building for seven years to avoid capture.
The United States is seeking his extradition from the UK – where he’s been jailed for 50 weeks for breaching bail.
The 47-year-old was booted out of the embassy – where he hid to avoid being sent to Sweden to face rape allegations.
The sexual misconduct allegations have been dropped after time ran out to prosecute him.
But the time limit for the rape case is August 2020.
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Last month, Swedish prosecutors said they reopened the case and have now have filed a request with a court for his arrest.
If granted, it would be the first step in the process to have him extradited.
It’s been reported Assange will probably serve 25 weeks of his sentence.
The Swedes say they will be filing a request for European Arrest Warrant to detain him when he is due to be released.
Assange gestures from the window of a prison van as he is driven out of Southwark Crown Court earlier this month[/caption]
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