The US Charging Julian Assange Could Put Press Freedom on Trial

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Julian Assange has made himself a difficult figure to love. The organization he created, WikiLeaks, has spilled secrets that infuriate the right and, more recently, the left side of the political aisle. He burns all bridges, alienates friends, and sees enemies everywhere. Mounting evidence suggests he even allowed his organization to serve as a leak-laundering service for Kremlin hackers seeking to swing a US election.

But if the US Department of Justice prosecutes Assange, as it reportedly may soon, he could become something else: the first journalist in modern history to be criminally charged by American courts for publishing classified information. WikiLeaks may not look like a traditional journalism outlet, but it shares the same ends—publishing true information from its sources. And that means legal action against Assange could threaten the freedom of the press as a whole.

“Any prosecution would be incredibly dangerous for the First Amendment and pretty much every reporter in the United States,” says Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. “You can hate WikiLeaks all you want, but if they’re prosecuted, that precedent can be turned around and used on all the reporters you do like.”