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Julian Assange has been indicted by the US government on 18 counts of violating the Espionage Act, expanding the legal case against him and raising significant free speech issues.
The Department of Justice announced on Thursday that it was effectively accusing the WikiLeaks founder of having acted as a foreign spy when he published hundreds of thousands of highly confidential US government reports, including war logs and diplomatic messages.
Assange - Years - Embassy - London - England
Assange spent years holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, England, after avoiding a probe into sexual assault allegations against him in Sweden. Then last month, Assange was handed over to the UK authorities by Ecuadorian officials: he was jailed for 50 weeks for breaking his bail conditions in Britain. Meanwhile, Uncle Sam has started extradition proceedings against him.
The US government initially charged Assange with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, which could lead to a five-year jail sentence if convicted. These latest charges [PDF] expand that case to the more serious issue of espionage, which would come with lengthier sentences, possibly even an effective life sentence.
Penalty - Years - Prison - Count - Conspiracy
"If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on each count except for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, for which he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison," the DoJ's said.
What is unsaid is that the US government is seeking to make an example of a man who has actively annoying the American authorities for over a decade.
Assange - Espionage - Act - Speech - Questions
Charging Assange under the Espionage Act does, however, raise significant free speech questions, especially since Assange is likely to argue that his actions were protected under the First Amendment.
The US government has never charged a journalist under the Espionage Act so there is no clear precedent over the extent to which a journalist's work – including receiving and publishing confidential documents - is protected...
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