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Reporters Committee statement on U.S. indictment of Julian Assange

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On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice publicly announced that it had indicted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The announcement followed Assange’s arrest by Metropolitan Police at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where Assange had been since 2012.

The March 2018 indictment charges Assange with one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, made the following statement:

“While the indictment includes allegations about the receipt and publication of classified information, Assange is charged only with this single count of conspiracy to violate the CFAA. No newsroom lawyer would tell a reporter that it’s okay to do what the government alleges here, conspire to break a password on a government computer. But the application of every statute to every person — including the use of the CFAA against Assange or any other charges that the government might bring against him — must be consistent with the First Amendment, and we will be watching this case closely to ensure that the free flow of information on matters of public concern is not threatened.”

In January, the Reporters Committee filed a motion to unseal any criminal complaint or indictment charging Assange in federal district court in Virginia. The Eastern District of Virginia ruled that the Reporters Committee’s efforts at that time were “premature,” and needed to wait “until there is a sufficiently certain disclosure that charges have in fact been filed.” However, the court did recognize that “once an individual has been charged and arrested, both the First Amendment and the common law provide the public with a qualified right to access at least some judicial records in connection with the ongoing prosecution.”

Reporters Committee Legal Director Katie Townsend stated:

“It is clear from today’s arrest that the Reporters Committee was on the right track when it moved to unseal any pending charges against Assange earlier this year. As we said then, public access to court records and any court proceedings in this case is vital if members of the media and the public are to have a clear understanding of the implications, if any, of the government’s prosecution of Assange on the First Amendment and the newsgathering rights of journalists. Transparency will be all the more important as this case moves forward.”

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