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Reporter Group Warns of Impact of Assange Extradition

Reporters without Borders (RSF) is calling on the UK to deny the U.S. request for the extradition of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. The extradition haering begins Monday (Feb. 24) and will have wide-ranging impact on publishers, the group says. 

That is because, RSF says, if Assange is extradited, this will be the first time that the Espionage Act, which dates from World War I, has been used against a publisher. 

Wikileaks has provided a conduit for leakers to publish sometimes classified or secret documents. 

Related: Speech Groups Pan New Assange Indictment 

And if Assange is successfully prosecuted under the Act, it says, the investigative reporting that exposed the Pentagon Papers and Watergate would be criminalized, pointing out that the Obama Administration did not charge Assange under the espionage act for just that reason. 

Back in May 2019, A federal grand jury returned indictments against Assange on 18 charges brought by the Justice Department related to his role in obtaining, receiving and disclosing national defense information in a "conspiracy" with leaker Chelsea Manning, a move Free Speech organizations said at the time could chill investigative reporting.   

It was a superseding indictment, with 17 new charges added to the single count Justice initially charged.  

The counts are: Conspiracy to Receive National Defense Information (count 1); Obtaining National Defense Information (counts 2-4); Obtaining National Defense Information (counts 5-8); Disclosure of National Defense Information (9-11): Disclosure of National Defense Information (12-14): Disclosure of National Defense Information (15-17); Conspiracy to Commit Computer Intrusion (18).  

Assange was arrested in London last April. He had been living in asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012, but that asylum was rescinded. 

Assange has argued that the U.S. government's pursuit of fellow leaker Edward Snowden and others like him threatened the future of national security journalism.